When the G8 governments met in Japan this week, one of the items on the agenda that has been discussed in secret for months was signing an agreement that could enable customs officers and others to search your laptop or MP3 player for illegal material as you pass through a country's borders.
The Guardian reports on government plans to ratify the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in an article weighing up the pros and cons of the 'free' internet and attempts by various copyright owners to keep a hold on their material and their right to do what they want with it, Such efforts, says Saul Klein, a venture capitalist with Index Ventures who has invested in the free database company MySQL, exhibit a "finger in the dyke" mentality.
"In a world of abundance - which the internet is quintessentially - that drives the price of everything towards 'free'," he argues. "People don't pay for any content online. Not for music, not for video. They get it, either legally or illegally."
The battle between content creators and content users wanting it for 'nothing' is growing, encompassing the comics as well as the music and film industries. The Guardian reports that Scott Adams, the cartoonist best-known for his Dilbert strips, stood up for his work in a blog post in April last year, where he reasserted his ownership of his products.
"When you violate a copyright, you take something valuable from the copyright owner that he can't get back," he noted "... After I published The Dilbert Principle, within days it had been illegally scanned and was widely available on the internet for free. Technically speaking, it wasn't theft. But I still lost something. I (and my publisher) lost the ability to decide if, when, and how to publish as an e-book."
Unmentioned in the Guardian article is the fact that all this action by governments to combat what they see as widespread copyright theft is the apparent lack of any opportunity for the public to comment on the plans.
The Act would of course lend more weight to US government search and seizure of laptops and other eletronic equipment, highlighted by the Los Angeles Times recently, as we previously reported.
IP Justice, which is campaigning against ACTA, notes on its web site that as of 25 March 2008, no draft text had been published to provide the public with substance of the proposed international treaty. A “Discussion Paper on a Possible Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” was reportedly provided to select lobbyists in the intellectual property industry, but not to public interest organizations concerned with the subject matter of the proposed treaty. Indeed, it wasn't until Wikileaks posted the leaked ACTA discussion paper on 22 May 2008 that such groups got any idea of what is being planned.
The leaked document revealed "a proposal for a multilateral trade agreement of strict enforcement of intellectual property rights related to internet activity and trade in information-based goods, hiding behind the issue of false trademarks" and some of the wording suggested the potential for widespread "stop and search" to combat copyright theft.
• Read The Guardian article: "The right to peer inside your Ipod"
• IP Justice Campaign against ACTA
• Wikileaks version of the leaked ACTA discussion paper
• MIT engineer Erik J. Heels on copyright issues relating to Dilbert