Abstract: This paper explores why the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) seems so shocked by current demands for what seem like basic democratic elements of transparency and public involvement. I summarize the current state of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and what it contains. ACTA is part of a larger trend of international lawmaking in the United States, a shift from Article II treaties to executive agreements. ACTA is also part of a longstanding trend of coziness between industry groups and government representatives within IP policy-making. Trade negotiations made through the executive branch are particularly subject to industry capture, and that industry capture is particularly problematic when it is located in an agency of the government that does not envision itself as publicly accountable.
In the past weeks, Americans have been realizing that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) might not have been the Great War, but a short battle in hostilities of grander proportions. This is not the first time copyright policy-making has lacked balance, lost its sense of proportion, or threatened civil liberties. It’s just the first time the Internet has won.
Two things are missing from the current conversation. First, the recent debate all but ignores the broad arsenal of responses to copyright infringement already available to rights-holders, without SOPA. Second, the public has not been informed on how America’s free trade negotiations have been used to circumvent the democratic process, accomplishing much of what SOPA was meant to do.