Downloading trouble

Downloading has been a contentious issue for years. Some artists like Radiohead have embraced the trend with open arms, while others believe that punishments are the way to solve the problem and still others hope to find a balance between the needs of consumers and industries. Canada has recently been negotiating a treaty that could mean serious changes for the way we think about downloading.

Thirty-nine countries, including Canada, the European Union members, Japan, New Zealand and Australia, are meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico for the seventh round of negotiations in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which began in October 2007. An eighth and final round of negotiations is scheduled to take place in Wellington, New Zealand in April to finalize the treaty. The treaty covers a number of topics relating to intellectual property rights, including piracy, border issues and civil and criminal enforcement.

NDP Heritage Critic Charlie Angus protested the secrecy and potential implications of the treaty at a press conference. The NDP has also sent a letter to Trade Minister Peter Van Loan asking for disclosure of the ACTA.

The ACTA has largely been negotiated in secret. The contents of the treaty are unknown and information about Canada’s role has been limited. Canadians deserve to know what their government’s position is and how the treaty may affect them. If this treaty is truly in the interest of Canadians, then there is no reason why it should not be publicly available. This was one the NDP’s main concerns about ACTA.

The ACTA includes the possibility of a “three strikes and you’re out” law under which individuals suspected of downloading three separate times would have their Internet cut off for a year. Entire households could lose Internet access because of the actions of one person. This type of punishment is unreasonable and disproportionate. Something milder, like a small fine, would be more appropriate.

The three strikes provision would make Internet providers responsible for monitoring users and cutting off those suspected of downloading. No court order or evidence would be required for an entire family to lose access for a year. If such a serious punishment is put in place, then authorities should at least be able to prove that wrongdoing has occurred. Having Internet companies spying on people could violate civil rights like the right against unreasonable search and seizure.

Other measures could affect travellers who would have to prove that files on their iPods and laptops were obtained legally or face potential confiscation or other sanctions. These measures don’t solve the problem and would only potentially harm individuals who may end up having their property seized.

Canadian intellectual property laws need to represent the interests of artists, industries and producers, as well as consumers. This treaty represents a victory for industries negatively affected by downloading, but doesn’t give much to the consumer. Canada’s approach needs to strike a middle ground. ACTA could mean serious changes and consequences.

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