More criticism for anti-piracy agreement in Europe

Stakeholders speak out against ACTA

A wide cross section of groups and individuals spoke out against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) at a European Parliament event on Wednesday.

The international anti-piracy pact has provoked controversy throughout Europe, with many digital rights groups fearing that it encourages governments to make ISPs police their customers' Internet use. Although the text, signed in Japan in January, does not specifically require such a measure, it does leave the door open for this type of request.

Those in favor of the agreement say that copyright must be protected. However at Wednesday's event, Mike Masnick, CEO and founder of Techdirt, said that expanded copyright laws would not automatically help creators. Jan Malinowski, head of media and information at the Council of Europe added that policy goals should not be used simply to protect outdated business models.

Others went further: Amnesty International said ACTA doesn't properly balance different human rights against each other while digital freedom organization Access said the agreement pushes changes in Internet governance structures that are "ludicrous and dangerous."

The European Commission, the body responsible for negotiating the agreement on behalf of the E.U., agreed last week on a question to put to the European Court of Justice on the legality of the accord: "Is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) compatible with the European Treaties, in particular with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union?"

Since the court will not evaluate the effectiveness or proportionality of the measures within the agreement, nor the potential outcome, anti-ACTA activists see it as nothing more than a time-wasting exercise. However the Commission has urged the Parliament not to vote on the agreement until judges rule on its legality.

The European Parliament is the last European Institution that could put a nail in ACTA's coffin. If the Parliament votes against it, then it cannot be ratified despite the agreement being signed by 22 out of the 27 E.U. member states.

The Parliament is expected to vote in June (without waiting for the court ruling) and many E.U. countries are back-pedaling on their decision to sign the agreement. Most have suspended ratification. Members of Bulgaria's Parliament attempted to go a step further and force government to withdraw its signature. However, last week parliamentarians with the ruling centrist-right GERB abstained from voting and the proposal was not passed.

Bulgaria had already suspended the ratification of ACTA after widespread public protests in mid-February. Protests against ACTA are also planned for this weekend, in Paris on Saturday.

On Saturday, June 9, a Europe-wide protest day against ACTA is due to take place in the hope of influencing members of the European Parliament ahead of their expected vote.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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