US urges EU to OK ACTA anti-piracy pact

The US ambassador to the EU has urged legislators to pass an international anti-piracy agreement, saying that transparency comes second to the need for action.

William E. Kennard made the remarks concerning ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, to the European Parliament's Committee on International Trade today.

When asked by Swedish MEP Carl Schlyter why the ACTA negotiations were not being conducted in public, the ambassador replied that negotiations needed to remain confidential because there were commercial interests at stake, reports Swedish web site ACTA blog (unfortunately in Swedish).

ACTA, currently being negotiated by the US, the EU, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, has come in for criticism during recent months.

Opponents of the agreement see it as an opportunity for big business to reassert its stranglehold on international trade.

But for many, biggest problem with ACTA is that we don't know what it is. And neither, it seems, do those negotiating the pact want us to.

ACTA is designated as an 'executive agreement', which means it won't be debated by national parliaments as a treaty would.

Countries including India, China, Egypt and Brazil have also called on negotiators to open up proceedings, regarded by many in the developing world as a stitch-up.

The contents of the ACTA agreement, which have never been made public, concern international cooperation over the enforcement of copyright measures – described by the negotiators as "strong intellectual property protection".

Unsurprisingly, ACTA has won support from bodies representing the interests of big business, including the US Business Software Alliance, as revealed in a leaked memo at the web site of US freedom of information group Public Knowledge.

In a submission to the US Trade Representative, digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation has also hit out at ACTA for its "lack of transparency".