Busted at the border

Just as it’s illegal to swallow a plastic bag full of drugs and jump on a plane, or to stuff a drugged parrot or exotic monkey in each armpit to sell to high end pet stores, it’s also illegal to knowingly traffic stolen goods across the border.

If the entertainment industry, Canadian government and other governments have their way, that could also apply to any illegal music and video files you might have (okay, probably have) on your laptop or MP3 player.

The initiative is called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), and would include Canada, the U.S., and various members of the European Union. The law would give border guards the right to search computers and players for files that may be stolen — a definition that apparently includes music you might have bought on CD and converted to MP3, which is something that the music industry (boo!) has actually been pushing to make illegal.

So far ACTA has been negotiated in secret, and everything we know about it comes from leaked documents. It’s rumoured that ACTA will be tabled at July’s G8 meeting in Japan, and passed without any opportunity for public comment, due process, or accountability from the world leaders who will sign the agreement.

Border guards already do random searches of laptops at airports to look for child pornography, and under ACTA the searches would be expanded to include music as well.

ACTA also includes a provision, long sought by the music industry, that would force Internet Service Providers to hand over personal information from their clients when the client is an alleged infringer of copyright laws. If the current statistics are accurate — and if the music industry is serious about going after anybody who converts their CDs to MP3s, the offender list includes just about everybody.

The penalty for transporting illegal music or video would likely be some type of fine, but it could also include the seizure of your laptop or music player — pretty standard for people smuggling drugs by car and boat. Although that would no doubt lead to other legal challenges — seizing sensitive company information, for example, or personal files like photos would create an uproar — erasing the files would simply take too long. More than likely they’ll make you pay a fine, let you go with your stolen files, and then make a note to check you again the next time you pass through.

Although it’s clear that consumers have no say in this matter, I’d still like to have my objections heard. I keep coming back to this “copying your own CDs or converting CDs to MP3s is illegal” thing, which is so unfair considering the shoddy quality of CDs themselves.

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