Bridges Weekly Trade News DigestVolume 16Number 26 • 4th July 2012

European Parliament Rejects Anti-Counterfeiting Pact


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In a landmark decision earlier today, the European Parliament rejected the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) by a vast majority, with 478 votes against the deal, 39 in favour, and 165 abstentions.

ACTA is a plurilateral trade pact seeking to strengthen global standards for the enforcement of intellectual property rights in order to combat counterfeiting and piracy. The deal’s opponents fear that some of the provisions contained in the final text, which go beyond the standards set by the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), could have a detrimental effect on access to medicines and freedoms in the digital environment.

Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United States are the other signatories to the deal; however, they have yet to ratify the agreement.

The move comes just weeks after the EU International Trade Committee (INTA) adopted an official recommendation asking the European Parliament  to reject the agreement due to the pact’s ambiguous definition of “commercial-scale” counterfeiting and online piracy, the role of internet service providers, and the possible seizures of in-transit generic medicines. (See Bridges Weekly, 27 June 2012)

Four other EU committees have also previously expressed negative opinions on the agreement for similar considerations. (See Bridges Weekly, 6 June 2012)

Speaking before the vote, David Martin - British Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and leading ACTA rapporteur to the Parliament - said that “No emergency surgery, no transplant, no long period of recuperation is going to save ACTA.”

“It’s time to give it its last rites,” Martin added.

Civil society welcomes vote

The high-profile vote was watched closely by civil society groups, many of which praised the outcome.

“The way it was written, ACTA would have given an unfair advantage to patented medicines, and restricted access to affordable generic medicines to the detriment of patients and treatment providers alike,” said Aziz ur Rehman, Intellectual Property Advisor for the Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign.

In a statement, Ante Wessels from the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), an NGO, called the vote a “major victory for civil society, Internet freedom, access to medicine and knowledge, and innovative companies.”

“Criminalising whole societies is not the solution,” Wessels said. “It is essential that societies retain the policy space to find proportional solutions.”

Philippe Aigrain, co-founder of the advocacy group La Quadrature du Net, similarly lauded the decision. “European institutions must now recognise that the alliance between citizens, civil society organizations and the EU Parliament is at the core of a new democratic era in Europe,” he said. “European copyright policy must now be built with the participation of citizens.”

EU Trade Commissioner pledges to continue fight against piracy

Prior to the vote, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht urged MEPs on Tuesday to delay their decision until the European Court of Justice (ECJ) - the EU’s highest court - can rule on the treaty’s compatibility with current EU laws. However, a proposal to postpone a decision on the treaty and refer it back to the International Trade Committee in the meantime was rejected with 420 votes to 255, with nine abstentions.

After today’s vote, De Gucht promised that the parliamentary outcome would not be the end of the road for ACTA. “The European Commission will continue to seek the legal opinion of the European Court of Justice on whether this agreement harms any of the fundamental rights of European citizens - including freedom of speech,” he said.

“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,” the EU trade chief continued.

An EU Commission representative indicated that, once the ECJ opinion is issued, the Commission “will study the opinion with the European Parliament and consider further steps together with our negotiating partners.”

Regardless, MEP David Martin stressed in an earlier statement that “no assurances the Commission could give to the Parliament would change a legal text.”

ICTSD reporting. “Acta: Controversial anti-piracy agreement rejected by EU,” BBC, 4 July 2012; “EU Parliament rejects ACTA anti-piracy treaty,” ASSOCIATED PRESS, 4 July 2012.

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