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Meet SOPA's evil twin, ACTA

• CNN Money
FORTUNE -- It's only fitting that a loud, global outcry over ACTA, an international agreement to govern intellectual property, began just after the anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA were shelved by the U.S Congress in the face of massive public pressure. If "copyright maximalists" can't get legislation passed, writes TechDirt's Mike Masnick, "they resort to getting these things put into international trade agreements, which get significantly less scrutiny."

Not that the "maximalists" -- including the movie and music industries -- were following such a timeline, exactly. ACTA -- the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (PDF) -- is their backup, and they've been working on it for years. It's stirring protests now because Poland, Ireland and the European Union announced they would sign on this week, moving the pact closer to reality.

Like many trade agreements, ACTA is a confusing mess. Even its signatories don't agree on how it's supposed to work. The way it's been pushed forward has also been unruly -- talks have been held in secret, without any kind of legislative oversight or input from citizens or public-interest groups. The public only became aware of it in 2008, a couple of years after discussions began, when Wikileaks published a discussion paper. Since then, drafts of the pact have been released to the public, each successively less onerous to critics. Reportedly, though, big media and pharmaceutical lobbyists have been privy to the talks all along

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