The European Commission today welcomed the news that the text of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) had been finalised. But Internet service providers are worried that the deal will overrule a crucial decision on EU copyright rules at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
ACTA could significantly alter the way the EU deals with copyright infringement, argue Internet service providers, who say the text expects them to filter illegally accessed content if a rights holder has requested them to do so.
The European Court of Justice in currently examining whether the filtering of online content is in line with European law.
The case was registered with the Court at the end of September this year and on average it can take between 18-20 months for the European judiciary to issue a response.
After a prolonged battle in 2008, a Belgian judge instructed the ECJ to examine whether EU laws allow Belgian collecting society SABAM to ask the Internet service provider Scarlet to filter content on its networks to prevent illegal peer-to-peer downloads.
Today's finalised ACTA text available on the European Commission's website reads: "Each party may provide, in accordance with its laws and regulations, its competent authorities with the authority to order an online service provider to disclose expeditiously to a right holder information sufficient to identify a subscriber whose account was allegedly used for infringement, where that right holder has filed a legally sufficient claim of infringement."
"We are concerned that ACTA threatens to establish rules that go beyond the EU acquis and undermine the existing balance of the legislative framework, at the risk of undermining Europe's innovation capacity and competitiveness," reads a joint statement from Internet, telecoms and cable trade associations, EuroISPA, ETNO, GSMA and Cable Europe.
The lobbyists add that the European Commission is currently reviewing a litany of laws on copyright, including the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive.
"How can the European Commission even think of modifying the EU acquis by an international treaty, when they have not started working on this in Europe?" Andrea d'Inecco from EuroISPA told EurActiv.
The EU commissioner for trade, Karel de Gucht, today welcomed the announcement that participants had finalised the text, though his spokesperson confirmed that the document would need "legal scrubbing" and that informal talks would continue at the end of November.
"We have never suggested this is a done deal," said De Gucht's spokesperson, John Clancy.