Help Congressman Issa Crowdsource ACTA

Ron Kirk, US Trade Representative

This guy, USTR Ron Kirk, doesn't think ACTA needs IT experts...or Congress commenting on it.

Like just about every other site on the internet, Horrible Night got worked up (and encouraged our readers to do the same) regarding the SOPA/PIPA bills back a couple of months ago (if you need to catch up on what happened with SOPA/PIPA, check out this excellent article by Larry Downes at Forbes).

This time, we’d like to go a step further and ask our readers to help with Representative Darrell Issa’s (R – California) crowdsourcing project regarding the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international agreement regarding Intellectual Property protection. If you’re not entirely familiar with ACTA, you’re not alone, the international negotiations have been conducted in secret and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has declined to open up the document for public comment, since the USTR’s stance is that it’s an executive agreement (something the President can do on his own) rather than a treaty (which requires the approval of the Senate, since it becomes binding law just below the Constitution).

The Pieces Are Set

In short summary: ACTA is the same kind of poorly-worded, vague language that possesses the ability to hamper, perhaps even hamstring, some of the very sites that have made the internet the powerful tool and marketplace it is. In addition to being a mish-mash of short-term thinking encouraged by more traditional media industries, ACTA has been subject to the same failing that helped defeat SOPA/PIPA – it hasn’t included The Engineers, (or, as lawmakers charmingly called them, The Nerds) the closest thing the web has to a governing body. When those guys say something is a bad idea, the citizens of the internet listen. Unfortunately, no one’s really gotten loud about this because it’s been done on the quiet and repeated requests for a public comment period have been rebuffed by the USTR.

As a result of both the USTR’s intransigence and Congressman Issa’s demonstrated belief in a hands-off policy regarding the web, we get the Congressman’s site, KeepTheWebOpen… on which Representative Issa ran an end around the USTR and posted the current draft of the ACTA for comment.


No creativity, no dialog, no inquiry.

We don’t advocate piracy at Horrible Night unless it’s related to the Sid Meier or Tim Schafer variety and, frankly, pirating something you actually want is a pretty dumb thing to do, since if you don’t buy it, your favorite producers aren’t going to be able to keep making games. If you come up with a valuable idea, you ought to be able to make money on it and be protected from other people ripping you off wholesale. That said, those protections shouldn’t be so overbroad that they stifle speech and creativity or violate privacy. On the flip side, you have thinking like this:

One thing that we have learned is that piracy is not a pricing issue. It’s a service issue. The easiest way to stop piracy is not by putting antipiracy technology to work. It’s by giving those people a service that’s better than what they’re receiving from the pirates.

Gabe Newell, co-founder of videogame company Valve, which publishes Portal and Half-Life, and the digital game distribution service, Steam

which is really not what the business proponents of legislation and agreements like SOPA/PIPA and ACTA want to hear even though it’s coming from a guy who is rich, made it, and weathered the financial downturn quite nicely, thank you very much.

We’re Recuiting

Horrible Nighters, I’d like to entreat you to help Representative Issa (and the whole digital community) out with your massive expertise in things legal, tech-y and IT-wizardy. Hit up and read through the Treaty (which I think it is, despite the USTR’s stance, since it regulates Intellectual Property, which is explicitly reserved to the legislative, not the executive branch of the U.S. government.) Make meaningful comments and try and improve it and make it into a workable thing rather than a ham-fisted approach at regulating the digital realm that could ultimately result in no more Twitter, YouTube, Google Image Search…well, you get the idea.