Business News Labels & Publishers Legal Top Stories

European Parliament votes against ACTA

By | Published on Thursday 5 July 2012

European Parliament

As expected, the European Parliament yesterday voted against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, the much previously reported and often controversial global intellectual property treaty supported by pretty much all of the content industries.

As previously reported, ACTA was mildly controversial from the start, mainly because of the secrecy that surrounded most of the negotiations that led to the drafting of the agreement. Though opposition to the treaty really grew after most participating countries had already signed it, in the wake of the SOPA/PIPA protests in the US at the start of the year, and amidst claims that ACTA would force SOPA-style anti-piracy rules on countries that signed the new agreement. Those claims weren’t true, but helped rally public opposition, especially in those European countries that planned to opt in, but had yet to do so.

Although the European Commission played a key role in negotiating ACTA, and many EU member states signed it in January, the European Parliament hadn’t voted on it until yesterday. With an increasing number of protests staged against ACTA across Europe, and with no less than five European Parliament committees opposing the agreement, including the crucial International Trade Committee, it came as no surprise that MEPs voted to block the treaty (despite the Parliament previously smiling on it in 2010). And they did so by a huge majority, with only 39 people voting for the agreement. 165 abstained and 478 were against.

Opposition to ACTA in the European Parliament is split between those who have genuine concerns about the intellectual property obligations it puts onto member states (even though supporters of the treaty insist all ACTA obligations already exist in EU law), and those who simply object to the secrecy that surrounded the negotiating of the treaty.

What this vote means for ACTA, in the UK, Europe and beyond, is not yet clear, though some of the agreement’s opponents yesterday declared the treaty dead in the water.

In Europe, the European Commission could have a second try at getting the agreement through its parliament. As for those member states that have already signed the treaty, it’s not entirely clear what leeway national governments may have, given arguments by ACTA supporters that the agreement does not actually conflict with existing European IP laws, so the UK could ratify and fulfil the obligations of the treaty without changing any current intellectual property systems.

But it seems certain that nothing will now happen before the European Court Of Justice rules on whether the treaty would conflict with any fundamental rights under European law. That ruling will be key, because if the ECJ rules that there is conflict, then there would be no point the European Commission or any member state proceeding to push to get ACTA ratified. But if, as expected, the court says there is no conflict, that might give the battered pro-ACTA lobby – both within and outside political circles – ammunition to resume the push.

A spokesman for the UK’s Intellectual Property Office told CMU yesterday: “In light of the European Parliament’s decision not to give consent to ACTA, we will be considering our position on ratification of ACTA in the UK. We have supported the aims of the treaty which are to provide a coordinated international framework to improve the global enforcement of intellectual property rights and we remain committed to supporting these aims”.

Beyond Europe, it remains to be seen if this vote stops other ACTA signatories from having the treaty integrated into their national laws. Six signatory countries have to fully ratify the agreement – ie get it approved by their respective legislatures – before the treaty becomes binding on anyone. That could be achieved without any EU state being involved.

It was originally assumed that most governments involved in the treaty would find it easy to get the measures rubber stamped by their legislatures, though rallied by yesterday’s European vote, ACTA opponents in other countries might be able to put new pressure on lawmakers to block the agreement elsewhere.