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Border Security to become copyright police?

by on06 June 2008


New Multilateral International Law under consideration

Governments worldwide are enacting new laws that will allow them to search the contents of laptops and other electronic devices at borders and airports (including iPods and cellphones) for “infringement” of copyright laws. 

Last week, a four-page PDF draft document proposing the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” (ACTA) was leaked to the press, which contains plans for creation of an international copyright regulator, with each country’s border patrols acting as the “enforcement arm.” The ACTA is reportedly being written by representatives from the United States, Canada, the U.K. and other E.U countries.

U.S. courts have already ruled that border agents can search the entire contents of laptops and even copy their contents, and the U.K. has given its border agents the authority to search laptops for pornography at its borders.  The proposed ACTA, however, goes far beyond these provisions and basically would make international border agents the “copyright police.”

We’re not sure who came up with this great idea, but it smells of the R.I.A.A.  Since the U.S. courts can't even agree on what constitutes copyright infringement, an international organization is now going to now make these decisions, with the border police the decision makers? And with the intellectual property laws of every country being different, it seems that those laws would have to be changed worldwide to be uniform and legally enforceable.

Otherwise, travelers might infringe the copyright of another country unknowingly simply by traveling there with their electronic devices.  Saddling the border patrol agents with this daunting job also seems ludicrous. Are they now going to send them to law school for training as copyright specialists?  Highly unlikely. The border crossings and airport border entry points are already painfully slow in many places, and airports could become even more of an international business traveler’s nightmare.

Further, the ACTA will apparently operate outside the U.N. and W.T.O. under its own governing body of member nations, and there has been no call for public scrutiny or input from those who would be subjected to the rules of the ACTA. It’s disturbing, that’s for sure.

You can read the ACTA PDF here.

Last modified on 06 June 2008
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