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Acting Against ACTA by Professor Alan Story


30 May 2008


As more details about the proposed ACTA pact continue to dribble out, the

responses printed on this list, in IP Watch, and elsewhere rather miss the

main point, in my view.


For at least the past five years, copyright and patent owners and their

representatives in the halls of power, whether in Washington or London or

other rich IP-exporting countries, have used the term and concept of

“piracy” to capture the international agenda in our field.


In copyright, for example, where do we read about how copyright blocks

access to books or leads to ever greater commodification and sameness in

our culture? Instead, we are regularly carpet-bombed by the latest

revelation, accompanied by statistically unreliable surveys, as to how

piracy is, one week, killing the music industry, and the next week, the

film industry. Lock ‘em up, cut off their Internet access forever, piracy

funds terrorist cells: the articles never cease in this steady drip after



It is certainly working. When I was recently in Goa and told a Canadian

that I was doing some research on copyright, the first words out of his

mouth were: “yes, piracy is bad in India.”


Unchallenged about the fundamentals of this story, the architects of ACTA

are now moving in for the “legal kill” and, according to one US trade

official, “the United States will strive to complete the agreement before

the end of 2008.” (As a colleague and I joked sadly last week, ACTA is not



Yet again, the responses from many NGOs and legal observers simply

question the ACTA-making process, but never the substantive issues at



Does ACTA define the term “piracy” properly, asks one. (If it does,

presumably that’s okay then.)The ACTA negotiations are not transparent

enough, suggests another. WIPO and the WTO are already doing a fine job

fighting piracy, why do we need more piracy police? a third questions.


But what about the fundamentals of the issue? Never a word of challenge on

the basics is uttered, never a counter analysis is given.


Buying into this shameful piracy rhetoric or responding defensively or

talking solely about the process will get us nowhere, except for a few

more flights to Geneva. And it is exactly how those who have captured the

copyright and patent agenda want us to respond.


Instead, what we need more voices which directly challenge and

contextualise ACTA’s  piracy discourse. Read, for example, the words of my

friend Roberto Verzola of the Philippines (as quoted on page 73 of the

Copy/South Dossier:


“If it is a sin for the poor to steal from the rich, it must be a much

bigger sin for the rich to steal from the poor. Don’t rich countries

pirate poor countries’ best scientists, engineers, doctors, nurses and

programmers? When global corporations come to operate in the Philippines,

don’t they pirate the best people from local firms? If it is bad for poor

countries like ours to pirate the intellectual property of rich countries,

isn’t it a lot worse for rich countries like the US to pirate our



In fact, we are benign enough to take only a copy, leaving the original

behind; rich countries are so greedy that they take away the originals,

leaving nothing behind.”


Alan Story

Senior Lecturer, Intellectual Property Law

Kent Law School

University of Kent

Canterbury Kent

United Kingdom