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Internet Freedom: European MPs don 'Anonymous' Masks in Protest of ACTA
by staff report via fleet - ZDNet UK Monday, Feb 6 2012, 9:02am
international / mass media / other press

ACTA's future in doubt

The chances of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement becoming law in Europe dwindled suddenly on Friday, after Polish prime minister Donald Tusk said he was suspending ACTA's ratification in his country.

Polish MPs Protest ACTA in Parliament
Polish MPs Protest ACTA in Parliament

According to reports, Tusk said on Friday that his government had made insufficient consultations before signing the agreement in late January, and it was necessary to ensure it was entirely safe for Polish citizens.

Although it is technically a trade agreement, ACTA is effectively an international treaty aimed at criminalising copyright infringement and associated activities.

Tusk's backtracking could spell the end of ACTA for the entire European Union. If Poland or any other EU member state, or the European Parliament itself, fails to ratify the document, it becomes null and void across the union. As it stands, there are already five member countries that have not even signed ACTA.

"I share the opinions of those who from the beginning said that consultations were not complete," Tusk said, according to a report in Wirtualna Polska. The 54-year-old prime minister added that a Polish rejection of ACTA is now on the table, and admitted that he had previously approached the agreement from a "20th century" perspective, due to his age.

All this represents a major about-turn, as Tusk strongly defended the agreement just three days ago.

Poland has seen the biggest protests against ACTA, with thousands demonstrating on the streets last week. Hackers believed to be associated with Anonymous attacked Tusk's website, as well as the European Parliament site, after the signing.

Critics of ACTA say it has insufficient safeguards for online liberties, particularly in signing countries that do not already have strong principles of freedom of speech and expression. In addition, the agreement negotiations, which took place without the contributions of civic groups or elected representatives, have been widely described as undemocratic.

Mixed agreement

Because ACTA deals in part with criminal law, the application of which is entirely up to national governments, it qualifies in the EU as a 'mixed agreement'. This is why it was signed in January by a European Commission representative as well as by ambassadors from EU member states, including Poland and the UK.

The rules around mixed agreements say the legislatures of every EU member state, as well as the European Parliament, all have to provide ratification. The European Commission confirmed to ZDNet UK that if just one member state does not ratify ACTA, the deal will not enter into force anywhere within the EU.

As yet, none of ACTA's 31 signatories has ratified it, and seven countries, including EU member states Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands and Slovakia, have so far declined to sign the document at all.

However, in a letter (PDF) sent this week to the European Parliament trade committee, trade commissioner Karel De Gucht insisted those five EU member states will sign "in the coming weeks".

"They were not in a position to do so last week either because of the minimum time required for completing their internal procedures, or because they did not currently have an ambassador in Tokyo and will therefore need to send an envoy," De Gucht said.

One of the EU member states that did sign ACTA last week was Slovenia. On Tuesday, the Slovenian ambassador who signed the document in Tokyo on her country's behalf apologised for doing so, saying she had made a mistake.

"I signed ACTA out of civic carelessness, because I did not pay enough attention," Helena Drnovšek Zorko wrote. "Quite simply, I did not clearly connect the agreement I had been instructed to sign with the agreement that, according to my own civic conviction, limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history, and thus limits particularly the future of our children."

If the EU steers clear of ACTA, it is still possible for the agreement to enter into force elsewhere. However, for this to happen, at least six of the negotiating parties will have to ratify the deal.

Non-EU signatories include Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the US. Non-EU countries that have so far refrained from signing include Mexico and Switzerland.

© 2012 CBS Interactive


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Europe resoundingly dumps ACTA
by John Hilvert via lynx - itnews Wednesday, Jul 4 2012, 9:17pm

Key defeat for contentious treaty.

The European Parliament has resoundingly voted against ratifying the contentious Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

The treaty, which had faced rejection from five separate European Union trade committees ahead of the plenary vote on Wednesday, was voted down by 478 votes to 39 in a final meeting on the issue.

“It’s time to give ACTA its last rites," said David Martin, UK member of the European Parliament and a key opponent of the treaty.

"It’s time to let its friends time to morn and for the rest of us to get on with our lives."

The decision not to ratify the treaty was one of four the Parliament was expected to consider in the plenary vote. But the result was widely expected after no European representatives issued intentions to press its ratification.

However proponents of the treaty have still pushed for a further legal opinion from the European Court of Justice on whether ACTA is compatible with existing European treaties.

The treaty, which proposes to make changes to international intellectual property and trade law, has received wide criticism from a number of sectors and governments globally. Several European governments had previously indicated disdain for ACTA's provisions.

Lessons for Australia

The decision was received with relief by several industry and community representatives in Australia, where the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has continued to play down the effects ACTA would have on existing intellectual property legislation or business practices locally.

However, a parliamentary committee inquiring into the treaty last week recommended Australia obstain from ratifying the agreement until the Government provided more clarifications around the treaty, and an inquiry into copyright reform was completed toward the end of next year.

“The EU vote signals concern we've seen in other quarters that a punitive approach based on mere allegation will not wash with the internet community," Peter Coroneos, co-founder and former Internet Industry Association chief executive, told iTnews.

"Internet intermediaries, Iike ISPs and content hosts are happy to comply with directions under due legal process.”

He said the success or failure of treaties lay in how it approached regulation of market behaviours. The ACTA treaty, along with a similar agreement in the form of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has been widely seen as an attempt by multi-nationals and the US Government to modify global market behaviours through a trade agreement.

“They have to show through words and deeds that this isn't the case," Coroneos said.

"Being an advanced digital economy implies that your policy makers are savvy. I'm sure they've learned a lot from recent history, including ACTA.”

Tim Conway a public policy advisor for industry body the World Information Technology and Services Alliance, said his organisation supported efforts to stop creation of, and trade in, counterfeit goods and services.

However, such efforts were best addressed through well-established multilateral organisations, particularly the World Trade Organisation and the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

Conway said ACTA and the proposed TPP created problems for governments, industries and consumers by bringing forward different standards of intellectual property protection and enforcement.

Australian Digital Alliance executive officer Ellen Broad said the EU’s rejection of ACTA made clear that a lack of transparency around negotiations could be fatal to its success, particularly where that treaty is seen to privilege particular, corporate interests over wider society.

She added the EU’s rejection of ACTA should pave the way for a more open, inclusive approach to international negotiations affecting copyright standard.

"If Australia is still promoting ACTA text in the face of these high-level, wide-spread criticisms, that’s incredibly disappointing," she said.

© 2012

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