There is much discussion around the issue of international standards for the enforcement of intellectual property rights. The European Union is currently debating the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international legal framework for targeting counterfeit goods, generic medicines and copyright infringement on the Internet.
Since the day ACTA was put forward by the European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht, it created a range of reactions; some positive, some negative.
On the one hand, ACTA is considered to be a safeguard of IPR, as it will legally protect the creators’ work against illegal sharing and distributing. The European Commission supports the agreement, noting that Europe is losing €8 billion annually through counterfeit goods flooding our market. It also published a fact sheet, named “10 Myths about ACTA”, which denies that the agreement is an assault on freedom of expression, since respect for fundamental rights such as privacy, freedom of expression and data protection is expressly mentioned as basic principles of the agreement.
On the other hand, ACTA is seen by many stakeholders as posing serious risks to freedom of expression, access to culture, information and privacy, and there are those who believe that it fails to find the right balance between protecting intellectual property rights and preserving the fundamental rights of society as a whole. A petition calling for ACTA to be scrapped attracted more than 1.75 million signatures and coordinated a European-wide day of action against it on 11 February.
Furthermore the European Parliament, which will have the final word on whether the agreement will be approved on an EU-level or rejected, finds itself divided over the issue. Just a few days ago, on May 3, the Parliament’s Development Committee wrote a new version of its draft opinion, calling on the lead Committee on the dossier, the International Trade Committee, to propose that Parliament give its consent. However, the International Trade Committee has recommended that the European Parliament declines to give consent to ACTA, underlining that “the intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties”.
In an effort to clear the air around the issue, the Commission proposed to refer ACTA to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), in order to assess whether it is incompatible in any way with the EU’s fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression and information or data protection and the right to property in case of intellectual property. The European Parliament welcomed this decision and therefore now the word lies with the Court, before the matter gets back to the Parliament for final debate in June.
To conclude, it seems that there is a lack of understanding between legislators, who cannot agree on a common stance on the matter thus creating more controversy. The truth, however, is that the luck of ACTA in Europe stays with the Court; if the Court’s opinion is negative, ACTA no longer stands a chance in Europe. At the same time, if there is a positive opinion, appealing to the ECJ would mean a double advantage by both giving the treaty certain credibility and pushing back implementation to a time when public debate will have settled down and the public’s attention will be focused elsewhere. What will finally happen, is something very strongly debated, very much anticipated, which now only remains to be seen.
The ICOMP Secretariat