Last week, the European Union suspended attempts to ratify the international anti-counterfeiting treaty ACTA and asked Europe’s high court to see if the controversial proposal violates any fundamental EU rights. Those who drafted ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, say that it is necessary to “harmonize international standards to protect the rights” of those who create not only music and movies, but also a number of other protects that are frequent victims of piracy and intellectual property theft, such as pharmaceuticals and fashion goods. But opponents fear that ACTA could lead to censorship and a loss of privacy rights, which were similar fears of many in the US who rallied against two anti-piracy bills, SOPA and PIPA, that have been stopped earlier this year.
Under ACTA, internet providers would have to cooperate with governments to crack down on online piracy, via measures such as cutting off internet access for those who have illegally downloaded music or other files.
The European council had unanimously approved ACTA last December and EU and the 22 EU member states signed the treaty on January 26 in Tokyo, but all 27 member countries of the EU must sign the treaty if the EU is to be a formal member of it. Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands are now opposed to ACTA. Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US have signed ACTA; Mexico and Switzerland have not yet signed but have participated in negotiations about the treaty.
Opposition to ACTA has picked up in the past few weeks in Europe, with thousands protesting across eastern Europe and in Germany, France and Ireland; 4,000 protested in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, last Saturday. Among those who have expressed concerns about how ACTA could curtail basic freedoms are internet lobbyists and health campaigners, who content that “overly strict controls of copyright would exclude people from the internet and prevent developing countries from accessing generic medicines.”
EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht said that a decision from the European court of justice would clarify what he said is the “fog of misinformation” that has arisen about ACTA on “social media sites and blogs.” De Gucht claims that ACTA will not “censor websites or shut them down” and that it will “not hinder freedom of the internet or freedom of speech” but rather help to protect the intellectual property that is “Europe’s raw material.”
Opponents, however, do not think court approval will resolve the controversy. As Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder of the internet advocacy group La Quadrature du Net, said to the Guardian, “No legal debate can fix ACTA or give it a legitimacy that by design it cannot have.”
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Photo of a protest in Dortmund on February 25, 2012, by Rainer Klute