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Law Could "Infect" Americas Via Free-Trade Pact - EFF

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says controversial U.S. laws that appear to make it illegal for researchers to poke around in someone else's copyright protection technology could "infect" dozens of other countries through the FTAA.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, Aug 17, 2001 (Newsbytes via COMTEX) -- The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says controversial U.S. laws that appear to make it illegal for researchers to poke around in someone else's copyright protection technology could "infect" dozens of other countries through a far-reaching free-trade agreement.

The EFF, a technology-focused civil liberties group, issued an alert Thursday, saying the current draft of the treaty behind the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) takes a stand on intellectual property rights that reads like a page from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the U.S.

The motion picture industry has wielded the DMCA in civil courts to crack down on the distribution of free software that can read encrypted DVD movies. And, more recently, the DMCA was behind criminal charges against Russian software developer Dmitry Sklyarov, who was attending the Def Con 9 conference in Las Vegas to discuss his company's unraveling of security features in Adobe Systems' Acrobat eBook Reader.

The DMCA, passed by Congress in 1998, was the U.S. answer to international treaties shielding the technology behind copyright protection schemes. But the DMCA is seen as an aggressive incarnation of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) language, prohibiting not only the act of circumventing "technical measures," but also the manufacture and distribution of devices used to circumvent such measures.

The EFF complained that parts of the 106-page intellectual property section of the FTAA draft treaty pack the hard line of the DMCA - and then some.

"The FTAA treaty grants even greater control to publishers than the DMCA," the EFF's bulletin says.

"Much like the DMCA, the current draft of the FTAA agreement forbids the act of circumventing a 'technological protection measure' that controls the use of a copyrighted work," the EFF says. "It also bans making or providing tools that could help another to use a copyrighted work."

"Unlike the DMCA, however, the language currently proposed for the FTAA treaty doesn't include even a single exemption that would permit activities like lawful reverse engineering, protecting privacy, fair-use rights, encryption research, and countless other reasons a person might need to override the publisher's controls."

Even the "narrow exemptions" found in the DMCA "have so far proven completely useless to everyone who has attempted to rely on them," the EFF says.

"It is truly ironic that the United States, once the beacon for promoting the principles of freedom of expression, is now systematically infecting other countries with this dangerous public policy choice that will restrict more speech than any law before it," the EFF claims. "FTAA's anti-circumvention provisions represent U.S. imperialism at its worst."

The EFF is asking citizens in the 34 countries represented in the FTAA to submit objections to the group negotiating intellectual property rights under the treaty.

That group is scheduled to meet again beginning Aug. 22 in Panama City, so the EFF is asking critics of the treaty to make their views known by Aug. 20.

The EFF is at http://www.eff.org .

The FTAA and copies of the current draft treaty are at http://www.ftaa-alca.org