By a vote of 478 to 39, the European Parliament has rejected the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), by a near-unanimous margin of 478 votes to 39 in favor, with 146 abstentions.
ACTA called for internet providers to cooperate with governments in cracking down on online piracy, via measures such as cutting off internet access for those who illegally downloaded music or other files; those accused could face harsh fines and criminal charges. Opponents — many Europeans have been writing to their representatives in protest — have charged that ACTA will lead to censorship and a loss of privacy rights, similar fears of opponents to the two anti-piracy bills, SOPA and PIPA, in the US.
ACTA was approved by a unanimous vote in the European council last December. 22 member states of the European Union had signed the treaty in Tokyo on January 26; for the EU to be a formal member of ACTA, all 27 member countries of the EU would have had to sign the treaty. Following today’s ruling, those countries that have signed ACTA “may have been overruled in putting it into ratified effect,” writes Ingrid Lunden on Tech Crunch.
Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the US have all ratified ACTA but not yet approved it and today’s ruling may make it harder for them to enforce the treaty.
Loz Kaye, leader of Germany’s Pirate Party (one of ACTA’s major opponents), described the vote as, indeed, a “significant victory for digital rights” and a “triumph of democracy over special interests and shady back-room deals.”
However, whether or not today’s ruling means the “last rites” for ACTA remains to be seen. Lunden (citing TechDirt) quotes the EU commissioner, Karel De Guchtel, who is responsible for the treaty and who has expressed his intention to “push ACTA through the courts” regardless. The European Commission will, he says, “nonetheless continue to pursue the current procedure before the Court, as we are entitled to do. A negative vote will not stop the proceedings before the Court of Justice.”
ACTA may not be quite dead yet; Lunden notes that all eyes will be on Washington, to see how the US government responds.
Europeans protested ACTA in the streets and even in parliament buildings: Whatever the future (or not) ahead for ACTA, you can be sure that opponents will keep working to preserve our rights on the Internet.
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Photo by MEP Josef Weidenholzer
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