ACTA Update XVIII

On the not-very-scientific basis of several calls to MEPs yesterday, the impression I get is that the right-of-centre ECR group on the INTA committee will be pushing for delay until after the ECR has delivered its judgement. That could be in...

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On the not-very-scientific basis of several calls to MEPs yesterday, the impression I get is that the right-of-centre ECR group on the INTA committee will be pushing for delay until after the ECR has delivered its judgement. That could be in more than a year's time, and would be a big problem in terms of getting ACTA rejected, since all of the momentum that has built up over the last six months would be lost.

What that means in practice is that it we need the MEPs from the other political parties on the INTA committee to vote decisively against ACTA. In theory that should happen: both the socialists and liberals have stated that they are against ACTA, but with European politics, you never know. So it might be a good idea to contact those other MEPs and to encourage them to stick to the party lines in this case. If they intend to do that, we can thank them; if they don't, we can try to persuade them to change their minds.

In addition to contacting them directly, I think it would be useful for all of us to contact our local MEPs, asking them to convey to their colleagues on the INTA committee our views.

Here's what I'll be sending, using WriteToThem:

There seems to be an emerging consensus that ACTA is a flawed document, particularly the way in which it mixes things like counterfeit medicines with digital copyright infringement, its vague use of terms like "commercial scale" and its lack of safeguards for civil liberties through the use of meaningless phrases like "fair process", never used in treaties before (See Amnesty International's comments on this – https://www.amnesty.org/en/news/eu-urged-reject-international-anti-counterfeiting-pact-2012-02-10). The main issue is how to proceed.

One view is that ACTA should be ratified, because for all its flaws, it will help fight counterfeits in Europe. Sadly, this is not the case: according to the European Commission's own figures (http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/11/506&format=HTML&aged=0&language=en&guiLanguage=en), 84.92% of counterfeits come from China, and another 3.48% from India. In total, at least 95% of counterfeit goods in Europe come from countries that are not signatories to ACTA, and therefore will not be affected by its terms. In other words, ACTA will have almost no effect whatsoever on counterfeits in Europe, which must be tackled with current EU laws.

Another view accepts that ACTA won't actually make much difference on the ground in terms of combating counterfeits in Europe, but believes that ratifying ACTA would be a "step in the right direction" towards an anti-counterfeiting treaty that is effective. The trouble with this approach is that not only are there minimal benefits in signing up to ACTA, there are some very real disadvantages.

These include criminalising trivial copyright infringements online (Article 23), the loss of privacy and imposition of extra-judicial punishments thanks to unregulated "cooperation" between ISPs and media companies (Article 27), and the threat to medicine provision in developing countries (see Médecins Sans Frontières' report "Blank Cheque for Abuse: ACTA & its Impact on Access to Medicines" - http://www.msfaccess.org/content/acta-and-its-impact-access-medicines.)

That makes the price for this "step in the right direction" extremely high. No business would ever contemplate signing a contract with known flaws on the basis of it being a "step in the right direction": it would be grounds for crippling lawsuits. Similarly, adopting a flawed treaty that could impact negatively the lives of 500 million Europeans would be nothing short of irresponsible.

Given the crucial importance of getting this right, the only solution is to reject definitively the current version, and to re-negotiate it so that its fundamental problems can be addressed though an truly inclusive process involving all stakeholders. An important part of that re-negotiation must be the separation of two quite distinct aspects: counterfeit goods and online copyright infringement. Many of the difficulties with ACTA have arisen from the attempt to force two quite different worlds into a single legal framework when the rules governing them are quite different.

If the problems that ACTA addresses are important then we must come up with a real solution, not some unworkable "step in the right direction". The current ACTA is not that solution. Since it cannot be amended now, it must be rejected so that something better can be put in its place.

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