Forget the existing structures: the European Commission wants the EU to bypass WIPO and the WTO and move forward on a new anticounterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA) made directly with key trading partners.
The goal is to strengthen the intellectual property protections so important to the EU, the US, Korea, Japan, and others. Despite formidable protection offered by WIPO treaties and WTO rules, the Commission announced today that it needs to do more to protect European business, in part due to the "speed and ease of digital reproduction" and "the growing importance of the Internet as a means of distribution." Peter Mandelson, the EU Trade Commissioner, is backing the plan.
The EU, the US, Japan, Korea, Mexico, and New Zealand are the main participants in the group right now, which has the somewhat patronizing job of "setting a positive example for nations that aspire to strengthen IPR protection." Membership to those deemed worthy will expand over time, and "advanced developing countries" will be eligible to join. I'm sure such countries are thrilled at the prospect.
The new anticounterfeiting agreement is emphatically not about ganging up on China. How do we know this? The EU tells us. In its fact sheet on the agreement, the Commission says that the deal isn't meant to "point the finger" but to "share a particular vision of a path to stronger enforcement to deal with the challenges of piracy and counterfeiting today." (Groups like the WTO will still be used for enforcement as well; consider the US' recent WTO spat with China.)
Those challenges include fake drugs, luxury rip-offs, and bogus cosmetics. The situation has gotten so bad that the EU says it seized more than 2.7 million counterfeit medicines in 2006, and that nearly 10 percent of the world's total medicine supply is counterfeit.
Problemsalso include digital distribution of copyrighted works, and trade groups like the IFPI couldn't be happier at the thought of stronger enforcement. The music group "warmly welcomed" the new announcement and claimed that "nearly one in three music discs sold worldwide is pirate [sic] and around 20 billion songs are illegally downloaded via peer-to-peer networks annually." Frances Moore, an IFPI VP, also wants the EU to make "the fight against Internet piracy a top priority."
Because of the EU's governance structure, the Commission can't actually move forward with negotiations until it has a mandate from the member states. ACTA won't be enacted any time soon, but if it eventually is, this "path-breaking project" will add yet another layer of IP rights to the laws of the countries that sign on.