Three Out of Four EU Committees Vote to Reject ACTA

Bill could pass anyways, in theory, but faces a real possibility of defeat come voting time in July

Under current European Union mandate, major shifts in intellectual property direction must be screened and approved by the European Parliament.  Precisely such a change is currently being debated by the Parliament — the controversial international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

I. EU Committees, Politicians Sound Off Against ACTA

With some slight modifications, the European Commission, headed by Commissioner Neelie Kroes, is recommending that the agreement be ratified.  But Parliament’s vote will primarily be based on the opinions of five major committees that advise parliament.

The primary committee — the international trade committee — will vote on June 20-21 on its recommendations, based on the opinions of the four other committees. The four advisory committees are dedicated to legal affairs, civil liberties, industry, and development.

Unless there is some sort of surprise it appears the international trade committee will face strong pressure to vote to reject the bill.  The legal affairs committee voted against a draft recommendation for approval, while the civil liberties and industry committees voted for a proposal to reject approval.  In other words, three out of four advisory committees have come out in opposition of ACTA.

EU Politicians
Politicians in Europe don Guy Fawkes masks to show their opposition to ACTA.  Three out of four EU committees recommend rejection. [Image Source: Alexander Higgins]

After the three May 31 votes, the development committee will vote in favor or opposition of approval on June 4, deciding whether the recommendation for rejection will be unanimous.

II. Dwindling Support for ACTA; Mass Protests

The majority opposition is reflective of dwindling support for ACTA in the Parliament.  While the treaty is aimed at protecting media makers from piracy and protect various industries from counterfeiting, some fear it oversteps, favoring corporations over citizens’ rights.

ACTA protesters
Protests have swept Europe about the unpopular trade agreement. Here citizens are shown protesting in Lithuania at a large demonstration. [Image Source: 9GAG]
But much of the opposition has stemmed from simply the way ACTA was proposed and drafted.  The process was, at the insistence of the U.S. was carried out behind closed doors, beginning in 2007 or 2008.  Early drafts were kept secret, but were leaked by Wikileaks, causing substantial controversy for controversial provisions such as creating “thought crime” punishments and giving border patrol agents arbitrary privileges to seize electronics devices they suspected had pirated songs on them.
EU flags
The EU is weighing the cost of ACTA to freedoms. [Image Source: AFP]

While those particularly contentious points were later removed, much of the damage to ACTA and its proponents was already done.

After the late June vote by the international trade committee, Parliament will vote July 2-5.  Passage remains possible, but it’s increasingly looking like ACTA has a steep uphill climb and could be held up by appeals even if it manages to squeak through.  Perhaps the lesson learned here is that drafting sweeping secret treaties that effect citizens lives in democratic states is not an approach most find acceptable.

The rejection of ACTA would be a huge blow to the legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations which both soundly and unanimously backed the long-secret treaty, arguing that the needs of corporations overweighed civil liberty concerns.

Source: European Parliament

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