The controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international treaty that seeks to establish a broad new range of copyright enforcement standards and threatens to make broadband internet providers (ISP) more liable for the content they deliver, will officially be put to a final vote by the European Parliament (EP) in June 2012.
So far ACTA’s questionable status as a “trade agreement” has allowed it to avoid normal levels of local government scrutiny. Never the less it was officially signed by the European Union (EU) and 22 of its Member States, which included the UK, during January 2012 (here). In addition Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States have already signed. Only the Czech Republic, Poland and a few others have held off.
The baton has now been passed back to the European Parliament (EP), which still has the power to block ACTA; though there is some doubt about whether or not they will (here). On the other hand there has been no escaping the high profile anti-ACTA campaigns in some countries, not to mention the harsh criticism from ACTA’s previous rapporteur, Kader Arif, which might well give MEP’s some serious food for thought (here).
A proposal to recommend that Parliament should refer the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) to the EU Court of Justice was rejected by the International Trade Committee on Wednesday, with 21 MEPs against , 5 in favour and 2 abstentions.
[ACTA] Rapporteur David Martin (S&D, UK), had asked the committee to vote on the question due to a perceived lack of support from other political groups within the House. He had also said that if the committee decided not to proceed with the referral recommendation, he would withdraw his initial proposal to prepare an interim report with questions to the European Commission and EU Member States on what steps they would take to implement ACTA.
As a result of that outcome David Martin will now present his recommendation, as to whether MEP’s should say YES or NO to ACTA, on 25-26th April 2012. After that the International Trade Committee vote is scheduled for 29-30th May 2012 and then the final EP vote on the issue has been set for its June 2012 plenary session
Philippe Aigrain, co-Founder of the citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net, said:
“This vote is the first real test for the balance of views in the EU Parliament since the global anti-ACTA citizen movement took off. It demonstrates a growing understanding of ACTA’s issues by a wide range of MEPs, and an ability to avoid the procedural traps set up by the EU Commission and some pro-ACTA MEPs. It is promising step, but only the final rejection of ACTA will settle the issue.”
Some had feared that a second ACTA referral to the EU Court of Justice might merely have been used as a delaying tactic to help gain additional justification for the treaty. In any case ACTA isn’t likely to have much of an impact in the UK where our existing laws, such as the still unimplemented 2010 Digital Economy Act (DEAct), are considered to be far more advanced.
Over the years ACTA has also been watered down (here) and now contains some additional, if admittedly ambiguous, references to preserving fundamental principles (i.e. freedom of expression, fair process and privacy). The European Commission (EC) also stated last year that “neither personal searches nor the so-called ‘three strikes’ [ISP piracy warning letter] procedure will be introduced” by ACTA.