The ACTA saga has been grinding on for years now, distinguished by a wilful lack of transparency that is a clear sign that you and I are being right royally stitched up. If, like me, you were wondering where we are in the UK with this charade, the Open Rights Group has put together a useful summary:
1. Scrutiny in the UK comes in the form of ACTA going before two EU Committees – one in the House of Commons, and one in the Lords.
2. ACTA passed scrutiny of the Commons EU Committee on 14th July this year. The scrutiny report classifies it as ‘document not raising legal or political questions requiring a report to the House'.
3. ACTA passes scrutiny of the Lords EU Committee report on 14th October. The report references ‘Government doubts about the legal basis' (pdf). I asked the Lords committee about these doubts.
They replied with the letters that are copied below. I aim to one day understand exactly what they mean. Help with that is appreciated.
4. The Government said it is now ‘considering its position'.
Now is the time for the EU and its constituent nations to play democracy catch up and offer its citizens a chance to have their say – meaningfully – on this important and far reaching treaty. We will be chasing the Government on what it means to say that they are ‘considering their position' - the IPEX site says that ACTA has already cleared scrutiny in the UK. Are there still opportunities for people in the UK to have their say? We have asked for a meeting with Baroness Wilcox, Minister for Intellectual Property, where we shall try to get some more clarity and set out our concerns.
I fear that it's a pretty forlorn hope expecting anything to happen at the national level; after all, the only thing preventing the UK giving its nod on ACTA is the UK government ‘considering its position', which does not inspire confidence. However, there is still some room for the European Parliament to provide an opportunity for the public to be allowed to give its humble views on this treaty, and I expect the focus to shift there.
Meanwhile, we can perhaps learn from this experience that we have to insist on transparency as a matter of course. So now might be a good time to get really annoyed about this:
On November 22nd, 2011, the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament voted for a mandate, allowing the rapporteurs on the proposal for a unitary patent to pursue negotiations with the Commission and the Council behind closed doors, without any involvement from the rest of the Members of Parliament or any reporting to citizens.
April had already denounced the lack of democratic control of the proposed system and its possible abuses. Even though the idea of a new unitary patent title within the EU is not problematic in itself, the practical details of the proposed system are a cause for concern : the management of the system would be entrusted to the European Patent Office, an international organisation without any democratic control, that has already attempted to legalise software patents.
It's those last points that are particularly worrying. The European Patent Office has nothing to do with the European Union, and is essentially a completely independent body. Worse, it's entire raison d'Ãªtre is to issue patents, and so it is only natural that it will want to issue more of them, and in more fields. Its rulings have already pushed software patents closer to acceptance, and there can be little doubt that the unitary patent will make software patents the norm throughout Europe.
This is a disaster waiting to happen, and already we are seeing the political machine swing into action to make sure that it does happen. That such an important change in the European patent system should be decided by a few people behind closed doors is an utter outrage, and symptomatic of the deeply dysfunctional approach that is routinely adopted.
The only way we can hope to change this culture is by protesting about it whenever we encounter it until the politicians realise that even if we can't see what they are doing in secret, we do at least know they have something to hide.