Rather remarkably, a draft version of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has been released [.pdf] by the European Union, one of the parties to the agreement. After months of insistence that it was impossible to release, that it would reveal state secrets, and that civilisation as we know it would probably end, ACTA emerges not with a bang but a whimper.
This is certainly a victory for transparency, if only a partial one. It's a victory because it would never have happened had not countless organisations and individuals protested loudly and repeatedly against this travesty of democracy whereby we would be presented with a fait accompli once the trade agreement had been signed. It's a victory because certain of the worst clauses, present in the leaked version of a couple of months ago [.pdf], seem to have disappeared according to a thorough analysis on Ars Technica.
But the victory is only partial because we are clearly near the end of the ACTA saga (Act IV?), and much has already been decided without any input from consumer organisations or ordinary people. It's partial because there is still no sign that the negotiators care about what ordinary citizens think – as opposed to the media companies, who are the driving force behind it; it's partial because ACTA remains a very nasty piece of work that threatens many vital aspects of not just the Internet but personal liberty.
Much now depends on what happens in the next few months. Here, again, there is some good news: the vast ACTA machine has blinked once under the blinding sunlight of indirect scrutiny thanks to leaks. That offers us the real hope that we can do it again.
Now that we have the full draft agreement – even though the positions of individual governments are not revealed there, they are in the leaked version linked to above – we can start to argue over every word and every comma. We can start to argue against the implicit logic of the treaty, pointing out in detail, and with plenty of corroborating evidence, why it just won't work. In particular, in Europe we can talk to our MEPs about why it won't work, and why it needs fixing or – ideally – throwing out completely.
Ultimately, how the ACTA saga ends depends on us.