Negotiators have finalised the text of the controversial multilateral Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), which aims to stop international trade estimated at billions of pounds a year in counterfeit and pirated copyright works in physical and digital forms.
Conducted largely in secret - mainly at the behest of the film, video and music publishing industries - the negotiators have spent three years locked in argument. Originally scheduled for agreement in 2008, public disquiet and legal action have forced delays and compromises that have watered down the original language. But it appears to retain the power to sting criminals as well as the unwary.
In a statement, the European Commission said the deal includes state-of-the-art provisions on the enforcement of intellectual property rights, including provisions on civil, criminal, border and digital environment enforcement measures, robust cooperation mechanisms among Acta parties to assist in their enforcement efforts, and establishment of best practices for effective IPR enforcement.
Participants in the negotiations included Australia, Canada, the European Union member states through the European Commission, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the US.
La Quadrature du Net, a digital civil liberties body, said in a statement that by putting legal and monetary pressure on internet service providers (in a more subtle way than in previous versions of the text), Acta would give the music and movie industries "a weapon to force them to police their networks and users themselves".
It said: "Such a private police and justice of the net is incompatible with democratic imperatives and represent a real threat for fundamental freedoms."
Section 2.18 deals with enforcement in the "digital environment", meaning online or in computers. La Quadrature said co-operation between rights-holders and the internet service providers "could mean that police (surveillance and collection of evidences) and justice missions (penalties) could be handed out to private actors, bypassing judicial authority and the right to a fair trial."
It warned that rights-holders may be able to obtain private data regarding ISPs' customers without a decision from a judge. "This is a dangerous breach to privacy," it said.
The agreement allows for heavy financial penalties on counterfeiters and pirates. La Quadrature said these damages might not based on actual proof of harm.