Trick Or Treaty?: The Australian Debate Over The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement 2011

Pedro Roffe and Xavier Seuber (ed.), The ACTA and The Plurilateral Enforcement Agenda: Genesis and Aftermath, Geneva: International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014, 169-201.

60 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2014 Last revised: 10 May 2017

See all articles by Matthew Rimmer

Matthew Rimmer

Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Date Written: January 4, 2014


The secretive 2011 Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – known in short by the catchy acronym ACTA – is a controversial trade pact designed to provide for stronger enforcement of intellectual property rights. The preamble to the treaty reads like pulp fiction – it raises moral panics about piracy, counterfeiting, organised crime, and border security. The agreement contains provisions on civil remedies and criminal offences; copyright law and trademark law; the regulation of the digital environment; and border measures. Memorably, Susan Sell called the international treaty a TRIPS Double-Plus Agreement, because its obligations far exceed those of the World Trade Organization's TRIPS Agreement 1994, and TRIPS-Plus Agreements, such as the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement 2004. ACTA lacks the language of other international intellectual property agreements, which emphasise the need to balance the protection of intellectual property owners with the wider public interest in access to medicines, human development, and transfer of knowledge and technology.

In Australia, there was much controversy both about the form and the substance of ACTA. While the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was a partisan supporter of the agreement, a wide range of stakeholders were openly critical.

After holding hearings and taking note of the position of the European Parliament and the controversy in the United States, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in the Australian Parliament recommended the deferral of ratification of ACTA. This was striking as representatives of all the main parties agreed on the recommendation. The committee was concerned about the lack of transparency, due process, public participation, and substantive analysis of the treaty. There were also reservations about the ambiguity of the treaty text, and its potential implications for the digital economy, innovation and competition, plain packaging of tobacco products, and access to essential medicines. The treaty has provoked much soul-searching as to whether the Trick or Treaty reforms on the international treaty-making process in Australia have been compromised or undermined.

Although ACTA stalled in the Australian Parliament, the debate over it is yet to conclude. There have been concerns in Australia and elsewhere that ACTA will be revived as a ‘zombie agreement’. Indeed, in March 2013, the Canadian government introduced a bill to ensure compliance with ACTA. Will it be also resurrected in Australia? Has it already been revived? There are three possibilities. First, the Australian government passed enhanced remedies with respect to piracy, counterfeiting and border measures in a separate piece of legislation – the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012 (Cth). Second, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade remains supportive of ACTA. It is possible, after further analysis, that the next Australian Parliament – to be elected in September 2013 – will ratify the treaty. Third, Australia is involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. The government has argued that ACTA should be a template for the Intellectual Property Chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The United States Trade Representative would prefer a regime even stronger than ACTA.

This chapter provides a portrait of the Australian debate over ACTA. It is the account of an interested participant in the policy proceedings. This chapter will first consider the deliberations and recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties on ACTA. Second, there was a concern that ACTA had failed to provide appropriate safeguards with respect to civil liberties, human rights, consumer protection and privacy laws. Third, there was a concern about the lack of balance in the treaty’s copyright measures; the definition of piracy is overbroad; the suite of civil remedies, criminal offences and border measures is excessive; and there is a lack of suitable protection for copyright exceptions, limitations and remedies. Fourth, there was a worry that the provisions on trademark law, intermediary liability and counterfeiting could have an adverse impact upon consumer interests, competition policy and innovation in the digital economy. Fifth, there was significant debate about the impact of ACTA on pharmaceutical drugs, access to essential medicines and health-care. Sixth, there was concern over the lobbying by tobacco industries for ACTA – particularly given Australia’s leadership on tobacco control and the plain packaging of tobacco products. Seventh, there were concerns about the operation of border measures in ACTA. Eighth, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties was concerned about the jurisdiction of the ACTA Committee, and the treaty’s protean nature. Finally, the chapter raises fundamental issues about the relationship between the executive and the Australian Parliament with respect to treaty-making. There is a need to reconsider the efficacy of the Trick or Treaty reforms passed by the Australian Parliament in the 1990s.

Keywords: ACTA, Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, Copyright Law, Trademark Law, Patent Law, Intellectual Property Enforcement, Treaty-Making

Suggested Citation

Rimmer, Matthew, Trick Or Treaty?: The Australian Debate Over The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement 2011 (January 4, 2014). Pedro Roffe and Xavier Seuber (ed.), The ACTA and The Plurilateral Enforcement Agenda: Genesis and Aftermath, Geneva: International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014, 169-201., Available at SSRN: or

Matthew Rimmer (Contact Author)

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) ( email )

Level 4, C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, Queensland QLD 4000

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