Proposed copyright treaty would force ISPs to cut online pirates' Web connections

Trade representatives from those countries have labored secretly over that document since 2007, fearing public scrutiny might complicate negotiations over what is a universally contentious subject. But a full draft of the latest ACTA revisions leaked to reporters this week, triggering manifest criticism from local ISPs, tech groups, privacy advocates and consumers.

The proposed treaty contains a handful of provisions that lawmakers in most countries, including the United States, might find too aggressive -- from rules on search and seizure of computer equipment used to steal illegal content, to concerns that some of the world's most habitual copyright theft havens, including China, may simply never sign the pact.

But among those concerns are the treaty's proposed changes to long-standing U.S. rules that protect ISPs from copyright claims, even when their consumers use their network connections inappropriately.

Current "safe harbor" laws, set in place by the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), shield domestic Web providers from those copyright charges, provided they respond appropriately and quickly to any take-down requests.

That provision would remain intact, if ACTA was implemented, and extended to other ISPs in countries that sign the treaty. But on top of it would be a new "graduated response" rule, which for the first time would charge Web providers with the responsibility of punishing copyright infringers.

Consumers are unlikely to support the plan, while record companies and movie studios are bound to defend it -- a microcosm of the historic tension between the two over the availability of free or inexpensive copyrighted content online.

But ISPs, too, could balk at the idea, citing their new legal role as too expansive, difficult and unfair to be practical.

Ultimately, the treaty remains far from finished, and it still must survive the ratification process, in the United States and elsewhere. Still, a handful of tech insiders, reporters and corporations have predicted this week that U.S. lawmakers may not support it, in part because it would permit sweeping changes to long-standing federal rules with only the Senate's consent.