European Parliament Rejection Puts ACTA Future In Doubt

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Today’s overwhelming defeat of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) by the European Parliament could have a resounding effect on the treaty’s prospects for survival, according to sources. Meanwhile, public interest groups are celebrating and copyright holders fuming.

“Never in history did a [European] Commission proposal only get 39 votes,” David Martin, rapporteur for the lead committee, the International Trade Committee, said after the vote. “ACTA is dead, not only in the European Union.”

The vote in Parliament was 478 opposed, 39 in favour, with 165 abstentions. Before the vote the European People’s Party requested a vote on postponement of the vote. The Parliament rejected postponement by a margin of 420 to 255 with 9 abstentions.

Martin said he expects it will be very difficult to get the necessary six ratifications necessary to enact the agreement.

“Australian Parliament might next week follow the European Parliament,” he said. While he could not be sure how countries like Canada or Morocco would react, the EP decision certainly would have an impact. Mexico always has seen broad political opposition. Switzerland has been delaying its own signing after the protests and political discussions are ongoing.

The Swiss Federal Council stated in May that Switzerland wanted to wait for more “decision elements to be at hand, mentioning the status of ratification procedure in the EU as one of these elements,” Mathias Schaeli, head of international trade relations at the Swiss Federal Intellectual Property Institute told Intellectual Property Watch. Accordingly, today’s EP decision would be taken duly into account in the further considerations and procedures, he said.

The outcome might have resonance for the ongoing negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, the latest round of which is being held this week in San Diego. A key factor in the resistance to ACTA was the closed-door way in which the talks were held, only allowing public scrutiny after the deal was done. The TPP is following a similar path. posted a blog discussing the possible impact on the TPP talks, here.

Martin said he personally had learned to appreciate how much the under-25-year-olds in Europe were prepared to stand up for internet freedom.

Canadian law professor and ACTA expert Michael Geist, in an email to Intellectual Property Watch, was a little more sceptical.

“I think the agreement is badly damaged, but not dead yet,” Geist wrote. “Other countries might still proceed, though ACTA’s influence will be very limited. Moreover, claims that it is a ‘gold standard’ or IP protection that should be adopted by others will be hard to sustain given that Europe has rejected it.” Geist’s public comments on the EP decision are here.

European Green, Socialist, Liberal and Left Parties all hailed ACTA’s death as victory of democracy and a chance and momentum for real copyright reform in the digital age.

But the EU Commission has not given up yet. Maroš Šefčovič, vice president of the Commission, announced that the Commission would still stick to its questions to the European Court of Justice. As soon as the Court gives its judgment on the constitutionality and legality of ACTA under EU law the Commission will analyse it closely and will also consider going back to the other signatories.

Knowledge Ecology International collected a range of comments on the outcome here.

KEI President James Love said, “There is real democracy in Europe, and a real parliament. And wow, what a social movement for fundamental rights! ACTA could never overcome its deficit in legitimacy and perspective. The US Congress has to take a deep breath and reign in USTR and other rogue anti-democratic agencies that are treating the public like enemies of the state.”

European publishers issued a statement calling the rejection of ACTA a “travesty” as Parliament failed to wait for the opinion of the European Court of Justice.

European Publishers Council Executive Director Angela Mills Wade stated: “The European Parliament has totally ignored proper judicial procedure. It has given in to pressure from anti-copyright groups despite calls from thousands of companies and workers in manufacturing and creative sectors who have called for ACTA to be signed in order that their rights as creators be protected.”

The European Commission “will wait for the Court’s ruling and then will approach other signatories of the Agreement and the Parliament to agree the next steps,” the publishers said.

The music industry group IFPI published a set of reactions from rights holders, here.

“Europe’s innovative manufacturing and creative industries consider that today’s vote by the European Parliament will be damaging for European intellectual property, jobs and the economy. The decision on ACTA is a missed opportunity for the EU to protect its creative and innovation-based industries in the international market place.”

“ACTA is an important tool for promoting European jobs and intellectual property. Unfortunately the treaty got off on the wrong foot in the Parliament, and the real and significant merits of the treaty did not prevail,” said Anne Bergman-Tahon, director of the Federation of European Publishers (FEP), a member of a coalition of over 130 organisations supporting ACTA.

“Europe could have seized the chance to support an important treaty that improved intellectual property standards internationally. We expect that ACTA will move ahead without the EU, which is a significant loss for the 27 Member States,” said Alan C. Drewsen, executive director of the International Trademark Association (INTA).

Difficulties in Europe for ACTA had been foreseen last year (IPW, European Policy, 21 December 2011).

On the public health side, Aziz ur Rehman, intellectual property advisor for the Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access Campaign, said in a statement, “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.”

French activist group La Quadrature du Net issued a statement, saying, “The European Parliament rejected ACTA by a huge majority, killing it for good. This is a major victory for the multitude of connected citizens and organizations who worked hard for years, but also a great hope on a global scale for a better democracy.”

“On the ruins of ACTA, we must now build a positive copyright reform,” La Quadrature said, “taking into account our rights instead of attacking them. The ACTA victory must resonate as a wake up call for lawmakers: Fundamental freedoms as well as the free and open Internet must prevail over private interests.”

Access, another public interest group lobbying on the issue, hailed the “fatal blow” to the agreement. “We are overjoyed that the Parliament took this monumental opportunity to protect human rights and an open internet,” it said.

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

“As an awareness project, ACTA is a big success,” Wessels said. “More and more people realize that maximizing profits at the expense of access to knowledge and space to innovate is wrong. The world deserves better solutions.”

William New contributed to this story.

William New may be reached at

Monika Ermert may be reached at

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  1. says

    ACTA is dead, long live ATCA!

    As a pragmatic approach, I would suggest to separate the issues of trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy. The fight against trademark counterfeiting is a lot less controversial. An international Anti-Trademark-Counterfeiting Agreement (ATCA) could be reached rather fast. The issue of generic medicines in transit could easily be excluded, as it is a patent issue and not a trademark issue. Then it would be possible to take more time to address the more controversial issue of copyright protection on the internet with an Anti-Copyright-Piracy Agreement (ACPA).

  2. Reinier Bakels says

    There are already international agreements on the enforcement of “intellectual property rights” for quite some time. Why ACTA on top of it?

    ACTA primarily serves the interest of the American entertainment industry. “Hollywood” wants to make more money without producing more – and enforcement is very helpful for that purpose.

    The problem with IP enforcement is that politicians are not always convinced of the need of 100% tight enforcement, and so are courts courts. So they most be avoided at all cost. Hence the ACTA negotiations were secret, and ACTA proposes regulations bypassing courts.

    If interests are really strong, do not expose them to politicians or courts.

    This is nothing new. Dictators always worked that way, and they always had magnificient control.

    By pushing ACTA, EU commissioner De Gucht proves exactly what opponnetns of the EU always argue against the EU: it is non-democratic, and it fosters the interests of big (American) business.

    Which is a pity because the EU is essential in view of long-term historical developments.


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