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EU digital affairs chief admits controversial ACTA treaty likely to fail


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Neelie Kroes

THE EUROPEAN UNION’S chief policymaker for digital affairs has openly admitted that the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement treaty is unlikely to come into force in the EU.

Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes told an audience of bloggers in Berlin that it was a political reality that the international treaty, criticised by many as posing a major threat to online freedom, would never take force in Europe.

“We are now likely to be in a world without SOPA and without ACTA,” Kroes said. “Now we need to find solutions to make the Internet a place of freedom, openness, and innovation fit for all citizens.”

In a wide-ranging speech, Kroes argued that a degree of security was needed in order to safeguard online security, but said the main task facing authorities now was to guarantee this freedom without recourse to ACTA.

“There is no freedom without security; these concepts are interdependent and complementary. I may have the legal right to walk down a particular road at night – but am I truly free to do so, if it is not safe?”

Although ACTA is primarily aimed at stopping the trade of counterfeited physical goods, it contains provisions which demand that participating countries offer equal protection and enforcement procedures against digital copyright infringement.

Specifically, ACTA countries would allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to disclose a user’s information to a copyright holder, where the latter has a sufficient claim that the user is breaching their copyright.

The treaty has already been signed by Ireland and most of the other EU member states, as well as the EU itself, in January – but in order for it to take effect it must first be ratified by the European Parliament, and then be approved by the parliaments of individual countries.

MEPs are expected to vote on ratifying ACTA at plenary level next month, though there have been appeals from some MEPs to defer a vote until the European Court of Justice has had a chance to rule on its legality.

The European Commission agreed last month to refer the treaty to that court, in order to ensure that the deal did not pose a danger to the rights of individual EU citizens.


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ACTA Will Be Rejected

ALDE, the European Parliament’s Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, has recently confirmed that they are going to reject the ACTA. Guy Verhofstadt, the head of the alliance, supports intellectual property rights, but still believes that the treaty isn’t reaching the expected standards.

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Guy Verhofstadt claimed that despite their support of the protection of intellectual property rights, they also care about human rights and freedoms. They pointed at serious concerns that the agreement didn’t strike the right balance. In addition, the alliance is going to support multilateral IP enforcement proposals, but the ones with a transparent, publicly discussed mandate only. Overall, it tends to agree on the concerns of those who boycotted the treaty in the past few months. Indeed, civil society has been vocal in the past few months in raising their legitimate concerns on the treaty, as there are too many provisions that lack clarity and certainty about the methods of their implementation in practice.

The main problem that the opposition points at is that ACTA was originally developed as a tool to deal with counterfeit products rather than with illegal sharing of digital content on the Internet. That’s what ALDE agrees with. In addition, the treaty wrongly bundles together different kinds of IPR enforcement, making physical goods and digital services equal.

However, the alliance believes that those should be approached in separate sectoral agreements, following a comprehensive mandate and impact assessment. A couple days ago the European Data Protection Supervisor also confirmed that the agreement could have unacceptable side effects on human rights. He said that while more international cooperation is required for the enforcement of intellectual property rights, the means envisaged can’t harm human rights. The governments should respect a right balance between how they tackle intellectual property infringements and the fundamental rights of privacy and data protection. Up to date, it seems that ACTA doesn’t succeed in this regard.

If the treaty is going to share the faith of Stop Online Piracy Act, you shouldn’t get your hopes high. Most likely, this won’t be the end of the “war”, because the American government is known to be working on yet another anti-piracy law – CISPA.

Source: Extratorrent
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