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US outlines secretive international piracy deal

Shadowy ninja agreement allegedly for industrial use only

The world's major economic powers are considering whether to involve internet service providers (ISPs) in fighting copyright infringement and how to stop pirated material crossing borders, according to documents released by the US Government.

Thirty-seven countries are negotiating a new worldwide trade deal that aims to reduce counterfeiting and copyright infringement, but details have until now been kept secret.

Called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the putative deal has been kept under wraps, but as part of US President Barack Obama's commitment to transparency in government, details of the negotiations have been published. The secrecy around the talks had attracted criticism from digital rights lobbyists.

The just-published summary indicates that the countries are considering how to involve ISPs in the process of combating internet piracy.

The document said that the countries were discussing "the possible role and responsibilities of internet service providers in deterring copyright and related rights piracy over the internet". Just last week the French Assembly passed a law that forces ISPs to disconnect those suspected of illegally sharing copyright infringing material on the third warning for up to a year.

ACTA is also considering what measures to implement to stop material from crossing borders. Fears had emerged that the countries involved were considering ordering border searches of computers and MP3 players to identify and possibly take action over pirated material on personal players.

The outline of ACTA activity discounts that, making it clear that it is concerned only with industrial-scale importing and exporting of counterfeit material.

"Cross-border trade in counterfeit and pirated goods is a growing global problem that often involves organized criminal networks," said the note. It said that ACTA might include "a de minimis exception that could permit travellers to bring in goods for personal use".

The document said that the countries were also looking into whether they should agree that only imported goods could be blocked or whether that could also apply to exports; what the limits of civil and criminal enforcement would be; and how the national authorities would co-operate and share information.

The Treaty aims to harmonise what scale of activity needs to be reached before infringement becomes criminal, and what rights authorities will have to destroy material.

The document also said that the Treaty would cover "criminal procedures and penalties in cases of camcording motion pictures or other audiovisual works".

The process was begun by the US and Japan in 2006 but negotiations now include Australia, Canada, the European Commission and the EU's 27 member states, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore and Switzerland.

There have been four rounds of negotiation on the Agreement, most recently in France in December. Another was planned for March in Morocco, but was postponed as the US government asked for more time for its international trade authority to changeover in the aftermath of the change of government.

A summary can be found here.

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