At a public hearing in Brussels today, the EU executive tried to reassure business and civil liberties groups that the EU would impose criminal sanctions only on counterfeit goods "on a commercial scale," but not on "proverbial housewife file-sharing," meaning by private individuals.
Releasing ACTA files
The head of intellectual property and public procurement at the European Commission's trade unit, Luc Devigne, said the executive would try to convince its negotiating partners (see 'Background') to release the draft text being written at the ACTA talks.
"We have nothing to hide," Devigne insisted.
"We will try to request the release of these documents so Europe can see that we do what we say and we say what we do," he added.
Previously, all texts have remained secret and participants have been hesitant to divulge information from the ACTA talks after signing non-disclosure agreements. Such agreements are a standard requirement in international trade talks, according to participants.
The secrecy surrounding the talks has unnerved many stakeholders, who were granted today's hearing after lobbying efforts.
Leaks from the talks have led some to believe that the EU was en route to heavy-handed new laws on combating piracy, both on- and offline.
'No' to all rumours
"There will be no three strikes, there will be no change to the liability of Internet service providers, there will be full respect of data privacy and no provisions on customs searches," Devigne said, addressing what he termed as "rumours" of the kind of laws ACTA is writing.
The EU has previously done battle on a French proposal to cut Internet users' connections once they had been caught making illegal downloads three times – the "three-strikes" law, known as the "Hadopi" law in France.
The European Parliament managed to eliminate the possibility of introducing a three-strike rule to the EU's telecoms package last year (EurActiv 05/11/09).
Though Devigne said the EU would not adopt such a law even if other partners wanted one, David Hammerstein from the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue argued that a more heavy-handed approach to counterfeiting would give Internet providers an incentive to hide a three-strike rule in the fine print of their consumer contracts.
The other hot potato has been whether Internet service providers (ISPs) would be made liable for pirated content on their networks.
Devigne also argued that current rules, which do not hold ISPs liable but define them as "mere conduits" – or carriers - of content, would not change.
If an ISP is defined as a "mere conduit," a carrier of content, then it is not responsible for pirated content if it does not "initiate or modify" it and has no say on where it ends up, an EU official told EurActiv last month (EurActiv 04/02/10).
The counter argument from activists and other ACTA critics is still, however, that new rules on copyright enforcement and talk of criminal sanctions, even on a commercial scale, will pave the way for industry to self-regulate, eventually harming consumers.
MEPs have also said they would go to the EU Court of Justice if the Commission were to adopt rules allowing users to be cut off from the Internet if caught downloading copyrighted content (EurAvtiv 10/03/10).