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Last updated: July 5, 2012 10:19 am
A controversial global anti-piracy trade agreement has been thrown out by the European Parliament following fears it would restrict internet freedom and fundamental civil rights.
The lawmakers’ vote finally kills off the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which took four years to negotiate and had already been approved by all the EU’s 27 member states.
Acta’s defeat is the latest blow for global media companies seeking to combat online piracy, after the US shelved earlier this year two proposed laws designed to strengthen copyright enforcement.
Publishers and film production companies have sought strict global laws to protect their content from being illegally downloaded on the internet.
Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, said the vote against Acta was not one against the protection of intellectual property.
“The majority in the European Parliament is of the opinion that Acta is too vague, leaving the room for abuses and raising concern about its impact on consumers’ privacy and civil liberties, on innovation and the free flow of information.”
“European institutions must now recognise that the alliance between citizens, civil society organisations and the EU Parliament is at the core of a new democratic era in Europe,” said Philippe Aigrain of La Quadrature du Net, an online rights group.
The treaty, which also included measures to curtail counterfeit goods, many coming from emerging markets such as China and Russia, is unlikely to be revived in its current form, according to lawmakers.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, which had referred Acta to the European Court of Justice in February to seek its assessment on whether the treaty violated fundamental right and freedoms, said it would wait for the court’s ruling before taking any action to revive the treaty.
“It is clear that the question of protecting intellectual property does need to be addressed on a global scale – for business, the creative industries whether in Europe or our partner countries,” said Karel De Gucht, the EU’s trade commissioner.
“With the rejection of Acta, the need to protect the backbone of Europe’s economy across the globe: our innovation, our creativity, our ideas – our intellectual property – does not disappear.”
“Acta is an important tool for promoting European jobs and intellectual property,” said Anne Bergman-Tahon, Director of the Federation of European Publishers, a member of a coalition of over 130 organisations supporting Acta. “Unfortunately the treaty got off on the wrong foot in the Parliament, and the real and significant merits of the treaty did not prevail.”
Meanwhile, MEPs also threatened to undo an agreement reached by EU leaders last week on a common patent that had been more than 30 years in the making.
The last-minute compromise at a summit in Brussels between France, Germany and the UK was held up as a tangible sign of EU leaders’ commitment to take practical steps to streamline bureaucracy and help promote jobs and growth.
But MEPs, who were to rubberstamp the agreement on Wednesday, complained that leaders had changed the compromise text they had already negotiated with member states.
The source of their ire was a move to strip the European Court of Justice of final legal authority over the new patent court – a concession won by David Cameron, the UK prime minister, on Friday morning.
“It is quite unusual that you have a deal after a long negotiation and then you re-open it,” said one parliamentary aide.
The postponement means that MEPs will not be able to sign off on the patent legislation until September – at the earliest – extending one of the bloc’s longest-running legislative sagas.
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