For the half-year to 30 June 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Alberto Bellan, Darren Meale and Nadia Zegze.

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Thursday, 21 June 2012

ACTA gets a bit of a Euro-thumbs-down

"European trade committee votes to reject piracy treaty" is the BBC news banner that announces some disappointing news for supporters of the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement -- ACTA (on which see earlier katposts here, here and here, among others). According to the Beeb:

"MEPs on a key European parliamentary committee have voted to reject [ACTA] by 19 votes to 12. Many regard it as the deathblow for the controversial treaty because the trade committee formally recommends how to vote to the wider parliament. The European Parliament vote is due to take place in July.

Acta aims to tighten rules on both online and offline piracy but has attracted many critics. One of its harshest detractors has been UK MEP David Martin, the lead member of the committee. Speaking after the Inta [that's the international trade committee] vote, he said:
"This was not an anti-intellectual property vote. This group believes Europe does have to protect its intellectual property but Acta was too vague a document".
 He said that it "left many questions unanswered", including the role of ISPs in policing the internet. He also said that many on the committee felt that the sanctions for breaches of copyright were "disproportionate".
... Critics argue that it will stifle freedom of expression on the internet, and it has been likened to the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa). Acta has been signed by 22 EU members, including the UK, but is yet to be ratified by the European Parliament. "In the end it came down to vote on intellectual property or civil liberties and I'm glad that civil liberties won over," he said. If the European Parliament voted to reject Acta, it will be scrapped.
Responding to the vote Peter Bradwell, a campaigner with the Open Rights Group, said: "MEPs have listened to the many, many thousands of people across Europe who have consistently demanded that this flawed treaty is kicked out. "This is the fifth consecutive committee to say Acta should be rejected. It now falls to the vote of the whole European Parliament in early July to slam the door on Acta once and for all, and bring this sorry mess to an end."
But a group of more than 130 organisations representing European industry have urged the European Parliament to wait for the opinion of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) before taking a final decision on the Treaty. "The majority of jobs in our knowledge-based societies rely on intellectual property. Counterfeiting and piracy, including on the internet, are creating a global black market threatening the economic basis of real jobs in the creative industries. It's a global problem that needs a global response. We need a tool like Acta," said Johannes Studinger, head of UNI MEI, a global union for the Media, Entertainment and Arts industries".
This Kat has long regretted the fact that the same thing that has canonised WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in the eyes of so many people has proved to be the damning of ACTA: the issue of openness and access to information.  ACTA was fatally tainted by the secrecy that surrounded its birth and it still seems inconceivable to this Kat that, while every other aspect of law that governs trade and commerce is apparently fit to be discussed, amended and applied in an open and above-board manner, anyone should have imagined that resentment, anger and likely rejection of its contents would not be a likely response from an increasingly conneccted world.

But where do we go from here?  It seems to Merpel that most of ACTA's detractors have not read it closely enough to see how much of it is good and uncontroversial, and how many of the bits they don't like are already in place, or potentially so, even without the agreement being signed.  What it needs, apart from a sensible debate, is a touch of rebranding.  Scrap ACTA, launch a new agreement that addresses the bits that aren't so controversial anyway and give it a pretty new acronym that sounds nothing like ACTA or SOPA, listen to ACTA's serious critics, address genuine concerns of the online community as well as IP owners,then launch a fresh version of the internet bits.  Worth a try? Or hopeless idealism?

6 comments:

A. Kamperman Sanders said...

No surprise really. Much of arguments could already be appreciated during the EP INTA workshop on ACTA earlier this year. See http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/EN/committees/video?event=20120301-1500-COMMITTEE-INTA&category=COMMITTEE&format=wmv#

Ruth Orchard Anti-Counterfeiting Group said...

It suited the 'internet freedom' lobby to make out that ACTA was 'secret' when in reality there is nothing unusual in trade negotiations being held in camera, and the EU Commission (which negotiated ACTA on behalf of all member states) responded openly to calls for information. Had ACTA remained an anti-counterfeiting treaty, none of that online anti-ACTA campaign would have happened, and it would have been ratified by now. The later inclusion of copyright, which automatically added layers of problematic issues to the mix, e.g. about free access to digital content, has unfortunately scuppered ACTA, as many of us thought it might. It now seems likely that trade mark owners will be permanently deprived of a new 'gold standard' for IPR enforcement and the global solution ACTA would have helped to provide, to address a growing global problem - the trade in fakes on the internet.

Andrew Robinson said...

To answer Merpel's questions, all the campaigners expect the copyright lobby to try again under a different name, and we'll be out on the streets in even bigger numbers when they do, because this time we know from the outset that the battle is going to be winnable. ACTA, SOPA, PIPA, TPP... rebranding isn't the answer, we're wise to that. It's true that lot of what ACTA includes is already in place, but the important point is that it's in place as repealable national laws. The reason the copyright lobby put so much effort into a treaty that the EU Commissioners claimed didn't actually change anything is because international treaties can be used to draw a line in the sand - signing ACTA means countries would have massive obstacles to overcome to reform copyright. Throughout the orphan rights discussions, sensible solutions have been dismissed because we'd have to leave the Berne Convention to implement them. ACTA is an attempt to similarly pre-empt copyright reform by putting countries in a position where they can't do things like legalising file sharing 20 years from now because they will have been ACTA signatories at the EU level for 20 years at that point as well as Berne signatories at a national level.

Where do we go from here? Looking at it from the wining side today, I think it's pretty clear... we take down TPP, then we take down Berne.

Anonymous said...

ACTA, whatever its merits may be, is yet another attempt at government by treaty to the exclusion of national parliaments. And for that reason alone it should fail.
(ACTA - Another Covert Treaty Attempt???)

Hans Sachs said...

By all means, bring it back ASAP!

Let's call it "CATNIP" (Coalition Against Theft & Nullification of Intellectual Property).

That way, followers of the IPKat will be more engaged and less enraged.

Anonymous said...

The new instrument could be called IPKAT - the Intellectual Property Kounterfeiting Abatement Treaty.

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