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ACTA falters

June 21, 2012

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) suffered another setback as an EU Parliament committee voted against the deal. While the agreement still has supporters, its detractors seem to be winning the upper hand.

Image of demonstrators in masks
Demonstrators in DuesseldorfImage: dapd

Politicians only recognized how explosive ACTA was when thousands of Europeans took to the streets in protest. Several countries, Germany included, intend to ratify the treaty.

In Germany, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger pointed out that there were "open questions" to address before enacting the agreement. After Thursday's vote in the EU Parliament's International Trade Committee, in which 19 parliamentarians opposed the agreement and 12 voted in favor, the same is happening in Brussels.

The vote brought ACTA a step closer to an early death as the committee recommended the EU Parliament reject the deal at a vote in July. The EU Commission has also already submitted a request to the European Court of Justice regarding the treaty's compatible with EU law.

An uncomfortable decision

ACTA, which has been negotiated over the last three years, can only go into effect if ratified by all EU member countries and approved by the European Parliament.

National governments have been restrained and largely left the decision on a controversial issue to be made in Brussels. But they have supported and watched the agreement closely over the years, Social Democratic Member of the European Parliament Bernd Lange told DW.

Protesters in Munich demonstrating against ACTA
There have been several demonstrations against ACTA in EuropeImage: dapd

"Now that civil society has discussed it, they say it is time for Europe to decide," he said while noting that some countries had pushed for the agreement.

ACTA's aim was to improve the protection of intellectual property by tightening customs controls to combat counterfeit goods from Asia, and to fight illegal downloading of music and videos.

Internet activists fear limitations

ACTA was drafted by countries most vulnerable to product piracy and violations of intellectual property rights, including members of EU, as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland.

These are the countries that would benefit the most from ACTA. For example, Europe loses 8 billion euros ($10 billion) to product piracy, according to the EU Communion. Despite countries agreeing on preventing counterfeit products, there is disagreement over the treaty's details and how the wording is interpreted.

Internet users have expressed fear that Internet service providers will monitor online activity and charge damages to right violators. Green Party MEP Jan-Philipp Albreacht opposed the treaty from the onset.

"Measures that are proposed for copyright are clearly oppressive to Internet users," Albrecht told DW.

He said he believes providers that violate copyright law ought to be pursued more aggressively than Internet users.

A woman with her mouth covered at a demonstration
People feel that rights will be infringed on the Internet via data monitoringImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Developing countries at a disadvantage

Another potential problem was that not every country was involved in the formulation of the trade agreement, Albrecht said.

"If you are drafting an agreement to combat piracy, every country needs to be involved, especially developing and emerging countries, because such violations tend to take place there," he said.

Also, developing countries have legitimate interests related to technology or generic exceptions, Albrecht added. Some aid agencies fear ACTA could impede trade in generic drugs, which tend to be cheaper than the originals. The medicines are essential to fighting diseases like AIDS and tuberculosis in poor countries.

But the agreement does still have supporters.

"ACTA is a milestone in the fight against product piracy," Christian Democrats MEP Daniel Caspary wrote in a statement on his website.

He said he believes developed countries and emerging countries are coming together to combat counterfeit products and brands. But not everyone is on board - the treaty has a limited number of signatories.

Image of Kenyans demonstrating for access to HIV/AIDS drugs
People fear that the development of generic drugs will be impeded by ACTAImage: AP

Back to the drawing board?

If the EU Parliament goes against its committee's recommendation and approves ACTA, the EU Council and the Council of Ministers would enact the agreement into law. If the EU parliamentarians do not endorse ACTA, it will be taken back to the drawing board.

Author: Ralf Bosen / csc
Editor: Sean Sinico