European divisions over ACTA deepen | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 11.02.2012

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European divisions over ACTA deepen

The international copyright treaty is meant to improve the protection of intellectual property. But critics fear the deal could severely restricts Internet freedoms.

Supporters and opponents of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) agree that intellectual property must be protected. But European societies are divided over how this is to be achieved. Recent demonstrations across the continent are proof of the growing opposition towards ACTA. The demonstrators fear the treaty will lead to a curtailing of Internet freedoms.

Plea for copyright reform

Demonstrators with anti-ACTA placards in Vilnius

Demonstrations also took place in Vilnius

The treaty aims to improve the enforcement of copyright laws on an international level, hampering counterfeiting of both tangible goods and digital property. Web activists are particularly critical of ACTA because the treaty could result in internet providers monitoring online content on a grand scale. With users easily pinpointed by their IP address, the door would be wide open for comprehensive web surveillance, according to critics.

"We don't want ACTA," says web activist Markus Beckedahl on his homepage "ACTA is a groundbreaking decision to cement the existing copyright legislation. We would prefer a reform of copyright laws that is in line with the digital age and media usage patterns," says Beckedahl, adding that the treaty would most likely do away with popular video sites such as YouTube.

Criticism of negotiating methods

German Pirate Party stand in Bonn

Germany's Pirate party also opposes the new treaty

Michael Kretschmer is the chairman of the Christian Democrats' (CDU) web policy working group and a staunch supporter of ACTA. "The treaty simply transports our idea of how property should be protected to other parts of the globe,” says the conservative MP. "And Germany in particular has a vested interest when it comes to protecting property and rights." Kretschmer says the critics' concerns are "unfounded," adding that more clarity on the subject matter would disperse the numerous fears and "baseless accusations."

ACTA critics were particularly vexed that the international negotiations on the deal were conducted behind closed doors. Launched by the US and Japan in 2006, the final treaty was signed by the EU and 10 more states in January. However, ACTA still needs approval from the European Parliament and national parliaments before it can take effect. So far less than half of the 27 EU member states have signed the treaty - and what's more, it looks like the signatories' support is crumbling.

Decision postponed

Activists with Guy Fawkes masks in Dusseldorf

Critics fear ACTA could seriously curtail Internet freedoms

In the wake of massive protests in Europe, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Latvia have for the time being suspended the ratification process. The German signature is also still missing - according to officials the delay was being caused by technicalities. But on Friday the Foreign Ministry withdrew the directive to sign the controversial treaty. The German government's decision has at least given the ACTA opponents "a little more time," explains Beckedahl. "Of course, it would have been better for the government to simply say it doesn't want to sign ACTA," says Beckedahl, adding that with Berlin shirking its responsibility, it is now up to the European Parliament to face the music.

Author: Anne Allmeling / nk
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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