ACTA: History repeating itself?

So the European Parliament has voted 663-13 against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) (h/t BoingBoing). Could this be a turning point in the negotiations? The whole situation does seem to have some similarities to the French reticence that sunk the Multilateral Agreement on Investment over a decade ago. It’s interesting to note, however, that rather than calling for the cessation of negotiations, the European Parliament is calling for the agreement to respect existing EU law. Which means that we’ll probably end up with an ACTA, though (if the vote is effective in putting pressure on EU negotiators) one that’s more modest and balanced than what U.S.-based interests have been hoping for.

Here’s a question I’ve been wondering about: if, as I’ve suggested previously, powerful interests will have to be served regardless of what’s in the final text, will ACTA’s excessive secrecy have helped or hindered the interests of those countries and interests seeking much stronger copyright laws and enforcement?

On the upside, if you can pull it off, you have an agreement that proponents can use to legitimize changes in domestic law and regulations. And even if you can’t keep it completely secret, the process may put opponents at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiation and implementation.

On the downside, excessive secrecy allows opponents to question its legitimacy while letting people’s imaginations run wild about what could be in the treaty and whip up anti-ACTA support. One would imagine that this would be a not-insignificant political problem, even in the case of executive agreements (like ACTA) that do not require parliamentary approval and some of whose requirements may be implemented via regulation, not legislation. And, of course, there’s the whole democratic-governments-should-act-transparently-in-the-interests-of-their-voters thing and the nobody-likes-to-think-they’re-being-played thing.

Just some thoughts. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. To say the least.

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