Two senators known for their support of stringent intellectual property enforcement expressed concern on Thursday that an anti-counterfeiting treaty currently being drafted may be too far-reaching.
Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) sent a letter on Thursday to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab saying that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement currently under negotiation "could limit Congress's ability to make appropriate refinements to intellectual property law in the future."
The speed of the negotiations and their lack of transparency compound the risk that the treaty will unnecessarily constrain Congress, the letter says.
Leahy and Specter authored the recently passed Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act. Before the legislation was approved by Congress, it was stripped of a controversial provision opposed by the Bush administration that would have given the Justice Department authority to pursue civil copyright infringement cases.
"We are disappointed that the Administration has been resistant to this effort and has opposed additional enforcement authority, such as civil enforcement in copyright cases where the violation rises to the level of criminal activity," the letter says.
As chair and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the two senators also support funding to assist foreign countries in combating U.S. intellectual property infringement.
Even though they applaud the USTR's efforts to bolster intellectual property protection, the senators said, they were concerned "about the breadth of the issues" the trade agreement could cover "and the specificity with which it could be written."
The USTR tried to allay concerns over the treaty at a public forum last month that gave some indication of what would be included in the agreement. Representatives of the USTR emphasized that the treaty would focus on the enforcement of policies already in place, rather than creating new, substantive policy agreements with other countries.
However, many at the forum still expressed their misgivings over the agreement. A representative from Google said the treaty should not include any provisions regarding Internet policy, since U.S. Internet policy is still in its nascent stages. The senators' letter mirrored those sentiments.
"Regarding the potential breadth of ACTA, we strongly urge you not to permit the agreement to address issues of liability for service providers or technological protection measures," it said. "The contours of the law and liability exposure in these areas continue to be debated in the courts."