US senators call for transparency in copyright treaty talks

The senators' letter says the public has a right to review the international treaty

Two U.S. senators have asked President Barack Obama's administration to allow the public to review and comment on a controversial international copyright treaty being negotiated largely in secret.

The public has a right to know what's being negotiated in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), Senators Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, and Bernard Sanders, a Vermont Independent, said in a letter they sent Monday.

ACTA will affect U.S. IT and other businesses, and the negotiations should be more open, the two senators wrote in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. ACTA will have "a large and likely durable impact," the senators wrote. "The public has a right to monitor and express informed views on proposals of such magnitude."

ACTA, being negotiated among the U.S. and several other countries, could require countries agreeing to the pact to enforce each other's copyright laws, according to a summary released in early April.

Obama, in one of his first official acts as president, called for the U.S. government to be more transparent and open, the two senators noted. "We are concerned that the ACTA negotiations have not been conducted in a manner consistent with these principles," the letter said.

A representative of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) wasn't immediately available for comment on the senators' letter.

USTR released 36 pages about ACTA on April 30, but digital rights groups Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation complained then that the agency was still withholding more than 1,000 pages on the proposed treaty. The two groups filed a lawsuit against USTR in September 2008, complaining that the agency had largely ignored their Freedom of Information Act request to disclose details of the trade pact, which has been negotiated among the U.S., Japan, the European Union and other countries since 2006.

USTR initially released 159 pages about ACTA but denied access to 1,300 other pages, saying that information was withheld for reasons of national security or to protect the USTR's deliberative process.

After continued pressure from the two groups and Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), an intellectual-property research organization, the USTR promised in March to review the transparency of its trade negotiations. USTR released a six-page summary of ACTA in early April and 36 additional pages later in the month.

Early this month, KEI and Public Knowledge complained that the agreement seems to include parts of prior agreements “most favorable to groups of intellectual property holders” while leaving out those elements “most favorable to consumers." Leaked portions of the ACTA negotiations indicate that the agreement would bring about broad changes in intellectual property law, the two groups said in a letter to the U.S. Congress.

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