Anti-ACTA Protests Expected In Two Dozen Countries; Parliament Opposition Rises

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All seems to come down to the numbers on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement: how many protesters will turn up at the ACTA Action Day in Europe tomorrow and how many members of the European Parliament (EP) will vote for it in plenary on 3 July. Without the agreement of Parliament, ACTA will fail, at least in Europe, observers say.

Anti-ACTA protests have been announced tomorrow for nearly a 120 cities in two dozen countries all over Europe, from Jyväskylä in Finland to Nicosia in Cyprus. The first wave of such protests erupting in February has swept over the ACTA parties like a huge wave and made some politicians turn and look at the controversial agreement with new eyes.

For a map of the ACTA protests see here.

ACTA has been negotiated since 2007 between the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the European Union in an attempt to establish an agreement for the enforcement of intellectual property rights that extends beyond the 1994 World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Yet the inclusion of an internet chapter – much rewritten during the process – and the approach of putting all IP rights in a rather badly compartmentalised basket, led to growing protests not only from civil society groups, software developers and public health organisations, but also from ordinary citizens. Academics in many countries warned of a lack of clarity in the provisions, a lack of balance between the IP rights holders and users, and a lack of redress and due process provisions.

Meanwhile, four committees of the European Parliament recently voted for a rejection of ACTA, and the lead committee will make its decision on 21 June and forward its recommendation to the Parliament plenary for the first reading on 3 July. A majority in favour is rather unlikely, Niccolo Rinaldi from the Liberal Party Group in the EP (ALDE) said in an exchange with Pirate Party MEP Christian Engstroem, posted by journalist Jennifer Baker. “It ain’t over til it’s over,” warned Engstroem.

This is also what the activists calling for the protests tomorrow seem to think. After months of pulling the ACTA text apart for its flaws, they now turn to “prayers”. But the activists point to Joe McNamee of the European Digital Rights initiative (EDRi) for the “math” of where ACTA stands in the graces of Parliament members in Brussels. “Only 175 MEPs have so far had the opportunity to vote (in the four committees) and just 56 per cent actively voted against ACTA,” McNamee wrote in an EDRi blogpost.

The Parliament Development Committee rejected ACTA by 19 votes to one, with three abstentions, according to EP information. A much closer vote against ACTA was taken by the Industry Committee (31 to 25), and in the Legal Committee 12 to 10 rejected the rapporteur’s proposal to adopt ACTA. The agreement was clearly rejected in the Civil Liberties Committee (36 against 1, but with as many as 21 abstentions). According to EDRi observations, many members of the largest group, the European People’s Party, were still favouring ACTA.

The plenary in fact is not bound by the committee votes, neither the four taken nor the one by the lead committee, INTA (International Trade).

A rejection by the plenary, on the other hand, even if close, would be a deadly blow to the agreement, activists think. Parties agree, McNamee wrote to Intellectual Property Watch, that “ACTA couldn’t survive without the EU.”

John Clancy, spokesperson for EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, pointed out to Intellectual Property Watch again that ACTA would “enter into force for those countries that deposit their instrument of ratification once six parties of ACTA will have handed in their ratification.” On the status of the ratification of the signatories he said he was unaware.

A request to Intellectual Property Affairs Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, which is administering the ratification process, has not yet been answered. The ACTA website of the ministry has not been updated with respective news.

How much influence the ACTA protests and the ACTA rumblings in the EU had, might be illustrated by the hesitancy of the Swiss government to even sign the agreement for the time being.

In many ways, ACTA has become a much bigger issue than ACTA itself by now. It is another test for the European Parliament to stand up against an agreement that has been negotiated very much behind closed doors – the Parliament did not dare to say no to earlier similar cases, like the handover of passenger name records to the US.

ACTA, according to McNamee, is yet another example of the “growing danger of privatised law enforcement.”

“ACTA,” he said, “is a strategically insane proposal [to] create a binding legal obligation on the USA to require the US authorities to encourage the domain name registries, search engines, payment providers and other companies based there to undertake privatised enforcement measures.”

In the end, the anti-ACTA protests have shown the power of growing digital rights movements, even if the anti-ACTA protesters marching Saturday are still some steps away from bringing ACTA down.

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

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