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ACTA petition delivered to European Parliament

By | Published on Wednesday 29 February 2012

European Parliament

Online campaigning organisation Avaaz has delivered a petition to the European Parliament with the names of over two million people who have backed an online call for a rethink of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, the global intellectual property treaty that has become particularly controversial of late, despite being years in the making, and having been signed by a number of countries already, including many European Union member nations.

As previously reported, ACTA was mildly controversial from the start, but most opposition has risen in the last month, in the wake of the anti-SOPA protests in the US, even though most EU countries, and the European Union itself, signed the agreement last month, and several other countries, including America, put their signatures on the treaty last year.

But not every European country has as yet signed the document, and those which haven’t are now – amidst growing opposition – having second thoughts. And some of those already signed up are also now publicly expressing reservations about the IP agreement. And at an EU level, the whole thing is still to be approved by the European Parliament, which is creating a tangible protest forum for those against ACTA, hence the petition.

Supporters of ACTA insist it is essential for ensuring the survival of copyright and trademark based industries, and that in Europe all the provisions in the agreement are already part of European law, so it won’t actually result in any new intellectual property rules. But opponents criticise the way much of the agreement was negotiated in secrecy, and say that some of the treaty is worded ambiguously, and might enable nations signed up to it to introduce, via the back door, draconian new IP laws that hinder people’s internet freedom rights.

The opponents do have some friends in high places within the European political community. The French MEP who reviewed the agreement for the European Parliament, Kader Arif, said “I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement”, while the parliament’s current President, Martin Schulz, said he didn’t think ACTA was “good in its current form”.

And the Scottish MEP who will oversee the treaty’s passage through the European legislature, David Martin, has now also said he is concerned ambiguities in the agreement could have negative consequences. He said yesterday: “I have no interest in criminalising individual consumers. I think you have to distinguish between the consumer and the producer of illegal content. I have no interest in the teenager sitting in his room deciding to download a piece of music for free because he finds there’s an internet service, that there’s a site providing that music for free”.

Martin recently welcomed the decision by the European Commission to have the European Courts Of Justice review the agreement to check nothing in it breaches basic EU rights. He’s also said the Parliament might put its own ACTA-related questions to the European courts. The European Parliament is due to discuss the IP agreement in June, and protests are likely to continue between now and then, though there may not be any speedy resolution on any of this, as Martin reckons it could take the ECJ a year to rule on the legalities of the treaty.

Meanwhile, Eminia Mazzoni, Chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee, welcomed the Acaaz petition, telling reporters: “Receiving a petition supported by more than two million people places an even bigger responsibility on us to listen to the European people and offer them a place to express their views to the European institutions”. She did, however, add that the Parliament had also received letters from individuals and organisations in favour of ACTA.

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