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Parliament threatens court action on anti-piracy treaty

The European Parliament defied the EU executive today (10 March), casting a vote against an agreement between the EU, the US and other major powers on combating online piracy and threatening to take legal action at the European Court of Justice.

[ 10. března 2010 | Autor: Published: 10 March 2010 on www.euractiv.com ]


The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which began in Geneva two years ago, is a plurilateral trade agreement to establish international standards on intellectual property rights.

According to former trade negotiators, countries attempted to clinch an agreement under the banner of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), but as members could not agree, like-minded nations formed ACTA.

Participants in the last round of talks in Mexico included Australia, Canada, the European Union (represented by the European Commission), Spain in its capacity as EU presidency holder, an unnamed EU member state, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States.

The next talks are scheduled to take place in April, in Wellington, New Zealand, and in Geneva in June.

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A strong majority of MEPs (663 against and 13 in favour) today voted against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), arguing that it flouts agreed EU laws on counterfeiting and piracy online.

In addition, the Parliament's decision today states that MEPs will go to the Court of Justice if the EU does not reject ACTA rules, including cutting off users from the Internet "gradually" if caught stealing content.

Though MEPs cannot participate in the ACTA talks, without the consent of the European Parliament, EU negotiators will have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a compromise.

Four MEPs from across national and party lines - Alexander Alvaro, Stavros Lambrinidis, Zuzana Roithova and Françoise Castex, dubbed the four ACTA musketeers - have launched a petition against the agreement, which has collected 31 signatures so far.

NGOs, academics and trade bodies that have studied leaks from the trade talks say the agreement would pave the way for network providers to introduce "US-style draconian" ways to penalise piracy.

ACTA leaks have shown that the agreement would not introduce a so-called 'three strikes' rule – cutting off users from networks after three attempts at piracy – but would allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to introduce other measures, provided the consumer is informed of the penalties in the contract, argues La Quadrature du Net.

EuroISPA, the Brussels trade body for network providers, says that recent leaks from the European Council indicate the EU is considering US proposals on combating piracy which include "criminal sanctions, US-style notice and take-down and monitoring of a user's Internet traffic and services".

Though EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht reassured MEPs at a debate yesterday that the EU was not considering all of the measures in the ACTA text, EuroISPA argues this contradicts the most recent leaks coming from the EU and the US.

"The Commission has provided no reassurance that it will not introduce the penalties outlined in the ACTA leaks," Andrea d'Inneco from EuroISPA told EurActiv.

Commission officials participating in the talks have signed a non-disclosure agreement and have been reluctant to divulge much information from the talks.

A high-ranking official told EurActiv that rumours saying ACTA would rewrite rules on the liability of Internet service providers for pirated content on their networks were untrue.

EU rules, which were agreed upon after lengthy negotiations last year, say that ISPs are mere conduits of information and are not liable for pirated content if they take measures to remove that content, the official explained.

The Commission official said this would still be the pretext of EU law and that ACTA would not alter the European safeguards.


In a statement released today, MEPs Lambrinidis (S&D, Greece), Castex (S&D, France), Alvaro (ALDE, Germany) and Roithova (EPP, Czech Republic) "deeply regret the fact that the Council is continuing its secretive stance, despite the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which stipulates that the European Parliament should have full and immediate access to information at all stages of international negotiations".

"This Parliament will not sit back silently while the fundamental rights of millions of citizens are being negotiated away behind closed doors. We oppose any "legislation laundering" on an international level of what would be very difficult to get through most national legislatures or the European Parliament," added Lambrinidis.

"Building on this milestone towards democratic transparency, citizens must urge MEPs to sign the written declaration in order to oppose measures in ACTA that endanger the open nature of the Internet," said Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for citizens' advocacy group La Quadrature du Net.

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