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Four European Parliament committees oppose ACTA

By | Published on Wednesday 6 June 2012

European Parliament

The debate on the still controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA to its close friends and foes, has begun in the halls of the European Parliament, where various parliamentary committees have been discussing the global intellectual property agreement, which has become even more controversial since countries started signing it late last year.

As previously reported, various countries around the world, including the majority of European Union member states, plus the EU itself, signed ACTA, either at the end of last year or the beginning of this one. But since then public opposition to the agreement has grown, with some arguing it gives opted in countries the power to introduce draconian new IP protection powers via the back door. Supporters of the treaty in Europe, though, insist it changes nothing in member states, and simply obliges other signee countries to ensure intellectual property rules are in line with European laws.

Although the EU has signed the treaty, the whole thing still needs to be approved by the European Parliament, and opinion there has swayed very much against the agreement in recent months, with many criticising the way it was originally drafted, and expressing concerns it breaches some fundamental EU rights. On the latter point, the European Courts Of Justice are also reviewing the proposals.

Meanwhile, in the European Parliament the body’s International Trade Committee is preparing to present its opinion to the parliament as a whole, and ahead of that four other committees gave ACTA some thought. And all four – the Industry Committee, Legal Affairs Committee, the Civil Liberties Committee and most recently the Development Committee – have recommended to the Trade Committee that they reject the agreement. The Trade Committee is expected to confirm its position on 21 Jun, before the parliament as a whole votes on the matter next month.

Whatever happens at a European level, governments in many EU countries, including the UK, remain committed to the agreement. Meanwhile in the US, where the government is also facing rising opposition to its decision to support ACTA, Deputy Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro has defended the agreement, specifically in response to a recent online petition.

She first notes that the Obama administration was a critic of plans in US Congress earlier this year to pass new laws to make it easier to block copyright infringing websites (ie SOPA and PIPA), but adds that ACTA is not the same as those bits of unpopular anti-piracy legislation. She says: “ACTA is an international trade agreement that establishes high standards for intellectual property enforcement. The agreement provides for: enhanced international cooperation; the promotion of sound enforcement practices; and a legal framework for better enforcement”.

She continues: “As you may know, the proliferation of counterfeit and pirated goods poses considerable challenges for legitimate trade and economic development. Protecting intellectual property rights helps to further public policies that are designed to protect the public. ACTA will help authorities, for example, protect against the threat posed by potentially unsafe counterfeit goods that can pose a significant risk to public health, such as toothpaste with dangerous amounts of diethylene glycol (a chemical used in brake fluid), auto parts of unknown quality or suspect semiconductors used in life-saving defibrillators”.

On the censorship and privacy concerns raised by opponents, she adds: “ACTA specifically recognises the importance of free expression, due process, and privacy. It is the first – and only – international intellectual property rights agreement to provide explicitly that enforcement of intellectual property rights in the context of the internet ‘shall be implemented in a manner that … preserves fundamental principles such as freedom of expression, fair process, and privacy’. No provision in ACTA requires parties to disclose information ‘contrary to … laws protecting privacy rights’. This includes the protections already in place in US law”.

So there you go. Not sure any opponents will be won over by your arguments though, Miriam, not even those inside the European Parliament.

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