EU and UK sign the ACTA agreement

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is a hugely controversial international treaty aimed at preventing piracy on the internet. Proponents claim that its purpose is to provide a common international framework for the protection of intellectual property rights. Opponents claim it is a secretive deal done behind closed doors, by-passing ‘due democratic purpose’ that will lead to internet censorship. ISPs fear that it will force internet providers to become an unofficial copyright police force.

Following considerable pressure after much of its content was leaked by Wikileaks, the current text has been watered down from the original. Negotiators are now claiming that it will not change any of the national laws of the signatories. "It simply does not change EU law," trade commission spokesman John Clancy told ZDNet UK yesterday.

This is true in the UK which has the Digital Economy Act (an equally controversial law enacted but not yet active), and might explain why five of the EU countries have not yet signed. It might also explain why the USA has been trying to pass the SOPA and PIPA bills. The USA has already signed the ACTA agreement but as a ‘sole executive agreement’ not requiring Congressional consent. If SOPA is passed in the USA, then Clancy’s claim would be accurate, and Obama (a supporter of ACTA) would be confident that he could put the deal to a democratic vote.

Kader Arif, rapporteur for ACTA in the European Parliament, immediately quit his role as rapporteur (an EU legal term for an official appointed by a deliberative body to investigate a specific issue). He denounced the signing of the agreement, quoted by French digital rights organization La Quadrature, in some of the strongest political terms ever heard. “I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement: no inclusion of civil society organisations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, exclusion of the EU Parliament's demands that were expressed on several occasions in our assembly.” He went on to conclude, “This agreement might have major consequences on citizens' lives, and still, everything is being done to prevent the European Parliament from having its say in this matter. That is why today, as I release this report for which I was in charge, I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this mascarade.”

Although the EU has signed the agreement, it still has to be ratified by the European Parliament. This is expected to happen in June, and will almost certainly happen since the Parliament has already accepted the text. European digital rights groups are calling for an anti-ACTA campaign along the lines of the anti-SOPA campaign.

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