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Lizard People drop ACTA draft from Black Helicopter

A giant scaly footprint in the face of humanity?

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Emerging briefly from their underground volcano lair, the shadowy A.C.T.A. organisation has released their latest list of demands. It's another relentless march towards global New World Order governance.

Actually, that's how a few bloggers and even professional hacks have portrayed it. But what's wrong with this picture?

Warning: Black helicopters

There's no disagreement about what ACTA covers: it's a long-running round of international negotiations designed to draw up a wish-list of legislation on behalf of intellectual property businesses. ACTA ostensibly covers counterfeiting, and other industrial-scale piracy. Businesses meet in private to draw up laundry lists all the time. But from leaks we know that the wish-list seeks to extend the definition of counterfeiting, at least in some areas, to civil infringement.

But the Lizard paranoia stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the types of treaties. Most of the World Trade Organisation's GATT agreements on tariffs are multilateral, and effectively compulsory. But ACTA is plurilateral, and voluntary.

With a plurilateral agreement, the laundry list is then presented to national governments. At this stage, national legislators throw it open for democratic debate, which is where "civil society" groups get involved. And here, the problems begin.

Copyright reflects national culture, and these are very different from country to country. For example, the French approach to copyright is very different to that of the United States'. So plastering a global set of practice on top of national law isn't easy. So Canada, for example, still doesn't recognise the WIPO Treaty drawn up in 1996. The EU only took 13 years to get round to it, doing so last December. You can see how it's very good news for international bureaucrats collecting Air Miles.

Governments, on the other hand, can take it or leave it - and most leave it.

There's another wrinkle to consider.

Whatever may eventually be in ACTA that deals with civil copyright infringement is extremely unlikely to even get as far as discussion stage in the UK. Why? Because policy makers have spent four years chewing over the Digital Economy Act, are heartily sick of it, and don't want to throw it all out and start again.

Nor, now, will the Republic of Ireland want to hear much about it, either. In a remarkably commonsense ruling in its High Court on Friday, Ireland rejected the idea of copyright infringement as a criminal offence, one requiring the mechanics of state intervention.

So ACTA, then, is a non-binding voluntary agreement that deals with fake jeans and fertilisers. It contains passages of wishful thinking that unlikely to get anywhere. Why have bloggers got their panties in a bunch?

A photograph of the secretive A.C.T.A. talks, sent to us by a blogger

Politics: You've got to be in it, to win it

Because having rejected politics, people want to be frightened out of their wits - rather like children.

"[ACTA] will certainly be wielded like a weapon on the rest of the world in the future," writes Nate 'Neutrality' Anderson at Ars Technica. Another blogger predicts that, "If a trade agreement is accepted by the world then it will trump any local laws" (fail) and "It is not surprising then that the treaty has had to remain secret as the only chance the world has of stopping it is before it is signed" (fail again).

I could have picked out hundreds of examples - but they all have something in common: a rejection of the idea that politicking can change people's minds. Therefore the world must be run by powerful men in secret lairs, exchanging money on yachts. It's a child-like view of th world.

Behind the inevitable mass outbreak of bedwetting that now accompanies all Intellectual Property stories is the reason I suggested here.

You can view the current copyright battles as a business/consumer issue - businesses need to reform their supply chains, consumers want to pay for services that are currently "illegal" (sic). This view requires quite a different mindset - one in which there are no "baddies".

Or, you can instead choose to dramatise it, and yourself, by escalating it into a "human rights" issue, an eternal struggle against The Man. Such a battle needs constant fuel to throw on the fires of injustice. It also requires you to see the individual (aka, each of us) as powerless, always at the mercy of dark, mysterious forces meeting in secret, for example on yachts, that. A.C.T.A. provides a suitably S.M.E.R.S.H.-like candidate for this viewpoint.

The problem with this sub-adolescent view of the world, is that in the end, it really does leave you powerless. Campaigners in the UK failed to deploy the strongest arguments against criminalising casual copyright infringement, and as a result we can thank them for some very silly, illiberal (and probably unworkable) web-blocking provisions.

For the latest bulletin from your Lizard Overlords - see this PDF. Just remember it's a laundry list. ®

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