EU To Request Publication Of ACTA Documents To Stop “Rumours”; Civil Society Meeting Planned

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Europe will request the publication of the current drafts for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) at the next ACTA negotiating meeting in New Zealand in April, European Union trade official Luc Devigne said today.

Speaking at the third EU stakeholder meeting on the hotly debated ACTA today in Brussels, Devigne also said there is a meeting with civil society planned to take place alongside the New Zealand round.

[Update: a video of the meeting is now available]:

The European Commission is requesting the publication of the documents “so that rumours can be dispelled and we don’t have to comment on leaks,” said Devigne.

The Commission official fiercely rejected the “rumour” that ACTA proposals include a “graduated response” – or “three-strikes-and-you’re-out system”- to cut off file sharers from the internet in cases of repeated copyright violations.

“The three-strike-system is no one’s idea, no one has ever proposed that,” Devigne said after having answered several times to concerns about the internet cut-offs. Cut-offs currently are possible under EU law under the condition of a due judicial process.

Several participants pointed to leaked documents containing three-strikes as an option. “Were these leaks fakes?” asked Joe McNamee from European Digital Rights (EDRI), the association of European civil rights organisations. Other civil rights groups’ representatives pressed the official to comment on the possibility of cut-off regimes being introduced on a “voluntary” basis by internet service providers giving in to the heightened pressure by civil right sanctions in ACTA. “No, they will not be induced either,” said Devigne.

Devigne also rejected claims that private users could be targets of ACTA enforcement, something that US organisation Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) had read from an alleged recently leaked EU ACTA document that also contained criminal provisions on “inciting, aiding and abetting,” according to KEI.

There would be “no criminalisation of the proverbial innocent housewife,” countered Devigne, and also there would be no searches of personal electronic items at the border. The much stressed mantra of the Commission negotiators was repeated over and over again: the Commission will stick to the EU acquis (the rules of EU competency).

How this could be matched with the lack of EU harmonisation of criminal sanctions against IP infringement is still unclear to some observers. Devigne said he could not answer questions on the upcoming criminal law-follow-up directive (IPRED2) to the EU IP enforcement directive (IPRED).

There was some support for ACTA shown at today’s meeting, for example from the International Trade Mark Association which again declared its hope to get ACTA in place as a gold standard, and the European Communities Trade Mark Association (ECTA). But scepticism about ACTA is still predominant as the debate in Brussels showed clearly.

The Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) saw a risk that access to generic medicines might be hampered through stricter border measures in ACTA. The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) [corrected] warned that ACTA could hand a “powerful weapon” to software patent trolls.

As long as information about ACTA is as sparse as it is, the fight will go on, and depending on what will be in the final documents it might intensify.

Several members of the EU Parliament today participated in the ACTA meeting and pushed for an answer to how the Commission would react to a recent resolution of the Parliament on the possible limitation of ACTA to counterfeiting. Several representatives asked if the Commission would respect the requests of the Parliament, but there was no common understanding between the MEPs and Devigne about the text in the first place.

When one participant asked if somebody must be lying when both EU and United States said ACTA would bring no change to their domestic law, Devigne said he could not say if other countries would have to adapt and one still had to wait for the final text.

It also is premature, he said, to comment on the institutional arrangements for the ACTA treaty group or secretariat. There are proposals on the table for this, according to KEI and Canadian ACTA-expert Michael Geist, but a question of Karsten Gerloff, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe, about the future role of different stakeholders in such a treaty organisation was not answered. Gerloff told Intellectual Property Watch after the meeting that he was rather disappointed with the meeting. “The Commission has not been transparent and I doubt that citizens will be informed about what is negotiated in their name.”

Monika Ermert may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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