European parliament advised to reject global anti-piracy agreement

The European Parliament has been advised to reject a controversial new global anti-piracy trade agreement.

Parliament’s influential international trade committee on Thursday voted 19-12 against merely deferring its decision on adopting the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) until the  European Court of Justice has decided whether it would violate the EC’s fundamental freedoms.

The vote means parliament is more likely to adopt the committee’s view against ACTA in its July 4 plenary meeting, regardless of whether the court rules it lawful or not.

There is a growing realisation that, in the online age, digital piracy, physical counterfitting and patent abuse can best be tackled through global consensus on intellectual property legislation. But digital liberties activists have mobilised a campaign against ACTA, citing “secret” inter-country negotiations over how digital piracy must be handled.

The agreement was signed in October 2011 by Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the U.S.; it was later signed by the European Union and some of its member states. But the commission will find it hard to adopt ACTA without parliament’s consent.

In a Brussels press conference following Thursday’s vote, Swedish Pirate Party MEP Amelia Andersdotter hailed it as a “great victory”. German Left MEP Helmut Scholz called it “a victory for participatory democracy”.

Scottish Labour MEP David Martin, who has been ACTA’s rapporteur (investigator), said: “This was not an anti-intellectual property vote, this was a vote against ACTA.” Martin said ACTA was too vague on the role ISPs must play in online IP enforcement, its proposed sanctions for copyright abuse and other definitions.

There is, of course, a counter-logic here. If ACTA was so vague, why did it stir up so vehement and specific a campaign against it?

German CDU MEP Daniel Caspary, speaking to journalists, lamented ACTA’s outright discarding rather than refinement: “If you’ve got a cold, you should try to cure him, not kill off the patient. We said we wanted to improve ACTA. If we reject it in plenary in two weeks’ time, we’re going to have to start again, people are going to be put at risk of having counterfeit goods again.”

Martin continued: “I welcome the active engagement of citizens, which is not always the case for legislation going through this parliament. When it came to defending our intellectual property or civil liberties, I’m pleased the committee voted to protect our civil liberties.”

Although some EU member states had already consented to ACTA, Martin said they would not be allowed to sign up if the EU does not.

If the parliament votes against ACTA, many observers will look to the European Commission for what, if anything, it plans to do next with the agreement.