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Web anti-piracy bill delayed

February 11, 2012

Germany has refused, for now, to sign the international online anti-piracy treaty known as ACTA. The German government had already agreed in principle, but appears to be wavering in the face of public protest.

The letters ACTA, in red, pictured standing in front of the German Chancellry in Berlin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The German government said on Friday that it would not sign the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international initiative seeking to protect intellectual property rights, especially on the Internet.

ACTA was signed by the EU and 22 of its member states in January, with Germany agreeing to the deal in principle at the time. A foreign office statement released on Friday said that Germany had not signed up "because of formalities" and that Berlin would join the pact "in a short time."

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger suggested on Friday, however, that the government was not prepared to give the treaty the green light.

"It is necessary and demanded that all the facts are on the table," Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said, calling on the European Parliament to look at the bill and "decide whether it wants ACTA or not."

Although the EU has signed up to ACTA, the bill must first be approved by the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

An "Anonymous" protester stands with a banner reading "STOP ACTA"
ACTA is unpopular among advocates of a free InternetImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Protecting or punishing?

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger is a member of the pro-business Free Democrats, Chancellor Merkel's junior coalition partners, who are not one of the German parties to oppose the legislation formally as yet. Opposition groups like the Greens, the Left party and the Pirate party - a relative newcomer with a heavy online focus - have been the most vocal political opponents of the bill in Germany.

"We welcome that the federal government is changing tack and will not sign up to ACTA for the time being," the Green party wrote in a statement.

The proposal, put forward by the US and Japan, is designed to prevent online copyright infringement. Critics of the bill, mainly Internet freedom advocates, argue that it would force signatory countries to punish even non-commercial breaches of copyright with criminal prosecution and even jail terms. The deal would also require that service providers release information like the IP addresses of individual users, making it easier to identify suspects in possible copyright infringements.

Poland, the Cezch Republic and Latvia have all stepped back from the ACTA accord in the face of public protests and some attacks on government websites.

msh/ng (AFP, dpa)