Thirty-seven countries together representing more than half of world trade declared with one voice this week that “effective enforcement of intellectual property rights is critical to sustaining economic growth across all industries and globally.”
They further noted:
“[T]he proliferation of counterfeit and pirated goods as well as the proliferation of services that distribute infringing material, undermines legitimate trade and the sustainable development of the world economy, causes significant financial losses for right holders and for legitimate businesses, and in some cases, provides a source of revenue for organized crime and otherwise poses risks to the public.”
This description of the global IP-enforcement challenge — included in the preamble to the nearly finalized text of the new, plurilateral Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) — is painfully accurate, as BSA and IDC’s global studies on software piracy and its impact attest.
But countries must have effective legal frameworks in place if they are to bring down software license infringement and other forms of copyright piracy. The World Trade Organization’s multilateral Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, known as “TRIPS,” was a major leap forward in that regard 15 years ago. It marked the introduction of intellectual property law into the international trading system and set minimum standards by enshrining the rights of creators and specifying enforcement procedures, remedies and mechanisms for resolving disputes. Then came the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), which modernized copyright rules by addressing protection of works in the digital age.
ACTA now builds on the foundation of TRIPS and the WCT in an effort to raise the bar higher. The new agreement’s signatories are committing to criminalize copyright piracy that is for commercial advantage — including software license infringement by end users — and make remedies such as statutory damages available to copyright holders to ensure they are compensated when their intellectual property is infringed.
These tools are already in place in the United States, which has the world’s lowest rate of software piracy, but are still needed in many other countries. That is why ACTA is a laudable advance. I’m pleased that the negotiators maintained their determination in the face of some overheated and hyperbolic rhetoric from copyright skeptics during the ACTA negotiations. I look forward to the new agreement’s entry into force and hope more countries will sign on in the near future.