On 26 January 2012 representatives of 22 EU countries (including Ireland) signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (“ACTA”) in Tokyo. The six remaining member states (including Germany) which did not sign ACTA are expected to do so on completion of respective domestic procedures. ACTA cannot enter into force until approved by the European Parliament. However, this may not be the only obstacle in its path to ratification given the growing public objection in Europe (via demonstrations and online petitions) to it. Indeed, even some politicians involved in the ratification process are now voicing objections to the draft legislation.
On 24 June 2011, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Council Decision on the conclusion of ACTA and the European Parliament’s Trade Committee has been tasked with guiding the legislation through parliament and will discuss it later this month. The Development, Civil Liberties, Legal Affairs and Industry committees will also have a say. Before taking a final position, the European Parliament will meet experts, representatives of civil society and other concerned parties, to ensure all opinions and concerns are heard. An assessment by external experts has already been provided.
The aim of ACTA is to strengthen the enforcement of intellectual property rights, including online, and to help combat counterfeiting and piracy of goods including luxury brand clothing, music and films. It includes provisions on civil, criminal, border and digital-environment enforcement measures, cooperation mechanisms among ACTA parties to assist in their enforcement efforts, and the establishment of best practices for effective enforcement of intellectual property rights.
ACTA is between the EU, the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland. Growing opposition to ACTA stems from concerns relating to the nature of the consultation process and specific aspects of the draft legislation concerning internet service providers. Recent examples of such opposition include:
- An official involved in evaluating ACTA, French parliamentarian Kader Arif, resigning in protest at what he described as a lack of transparency surrounding ACTA
- Both Poland and the Czech Republic deciding to delay ratification of the agreement despite signing it on 26 January and
- Slovakia’s ambassador to Japan, Helena Drnovsek Zorko, who signed the treaty, issuing a public apology for having done so.
The European Commission, however, appears keen to move forward with the draft legislation and says ACTA does not restrict Internet freedoms and does not affect existing EU laws. The full vote in the European Parliament is scheduled for June.
Contributed by Brian McElligott and Leo Moore.