New Zealand and a slew of international trading partners, including the USA, Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, Korea, Mexico and Switzerland, have been engaged in semi-secret discussions known as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) since October 2007.
Having already attracted the ire of the European Parliament over high levels of secrecy and lack of public input, ACTA discussions have continued, with the goal being to formulate an international agreement aimed giving ACTA signatory nationals what they need to stamp out the trade of counterfeited and pirated materials.
This week all things ACTA related in New Zealand have stepped up in intensity, as the New Zealand leg of the ACTA negotiations in Wellington kick off from today through to the 16th of March.
Leading up to the New Zealand ACTA negotiations, local opposition to ACTA has steadily mounted as concerns around the lack of transparency and public input into ACTA, as well as fears that an ACTA agreement could trample over hard-won New Zealand digital rights legislation such as the soon to be enacted replacement to the controversial Section 92a.
Globally, the levels of alarm around ACTA have more pronounced over the contents of leaked ACTA documents, with many cyber-activists labelling ACTA as an "entertainment industry wish-list".
According to the Bronwyn Holloway of the Creative Freedom Foundation this could see draconian US style enforcement aimed at protecting the interests of the entertainment industry by removing the rights of the general public:
"The US is only exporting the enforcement parts of US copyright law, not the consumer rights, which means that we get none of the good parts and all of the bad.
"For example, US copyright law protects parody and satire but NZ copyright law doesn't, so as New Zealand lacks protections for parody and satire the effect of greater enforcement will limit this type of expression."
A key concern frequently cited by those opposed to ACTA is that by becoming a signatory to the agreement, New Zealanders could be saddled with legislative requirements that could replace existing legislation tailored to the specific needs of New Zealand.
Laws aside, Bronwyn Holloway also argues that the interests of many New Zealand artists are not represented by ACTA.
"There is only one example of what ISPs might have to do to comply with ACTA, and that is to implement a Guilt Upon Accusation policy and allow unproven allegations to terminate New Zealanders internet access.
"They say this is being done in the name of protecting artists, but the 10,000 New Zealand artists in the Creative Freedom Foundation have already spoken out against this and don't want it done in their name."
A public meeting was held in Wellington during the weekend, attended by several hundred people interested in the rights of internet users.
During the 9-hour long meeting, a document was drafted called "The Wellington ACTA Declaration".
The Declaration takes issue with multiple aspects of ACTA, with key criticisms including the need for recognition of the internet as a human right as well as the need to utilise a forum such as WIPO for transparent negotiation processes.
The declaration also calls for ACTA to incorporate principles of freedom of speech and fair use as key parts of any future ACTA undertakings along with a call for ACTA to be focused on counterfeiting rather than copyright going forwards.
The declaration can be viewed here, and at the time of writing had attracted 1,744 signatures.
* Disclaimer: Although Pat Pilcher is an employee of Telecom New Zealand, his views are not necessarily those of his employer.By Pat Pilcher