The European Parliament rejected yesterday (4 July) the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), dealing a blow to European Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who sought to dissuade MEPs from voting on the international treaty before the European Court of Justice gave its opinion.
The vote – 478-39 with 165 abstentions — put the last nail in the coffin of the controversial pact although other countries are expected to carry on with it.
So far the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea are among the countries that have signed but not ratified the trade agreement.
Although MEPs feel there is a need to standardise international laws that protect the rights of those who produce music, films, pharmaceuticals, fashion goods and other products that often are the targets of piracy and intellectual property theft, they also feared the treaty as it stands could lead to censorship and a loss of privacy on the Internet.
"The vote against ACTA was not one against the protection of intellectual property,” said the Parliament President Martin Schulz. “On the contrary, the European Parliament staunchly supports the fight against piracy and counterfeiting, which harm European companies and pose a threat to consumer health and European jobs."
This is why MEPs decided to disregard De Gucht, who urged them to wait for the Court of Justice ruling before voting. Such a procedure could take up to two years and MEPs did not see the point in waiting.
Despite the resounding defeat, De Gucht said the European Commission would continue to seek the court’s opinion.
"It's clear that the question of protecting intellectual property does need to be addressed on a global scale — for business, the creative industries, whether in Europe or our partner countries," De Gucht said.
"With the rejection of ACTA, the need to protect the backbone of Europe's economy across the globe: our innovation, our creativity, our ideas — our intellectual property — does not disappear."
European public space
The treaty was unanimously approved by the 27 EU heads of government in December. But EU efforts to ratify the pact hit a wall of protests earlier this year. A petition against ACTA garnered 2.8 million signatures. Such a movement pushed the Commission to seek the advice of the Court of Justice.
"The decision to reject ACTA was not taken lightly,” Schulz said. “It followed an intensive, inclusive and transparent debate with civil society, business organisations, national parliaments and many other stakeholders.”
// BUSINESS AND CIVIL SOCIETY
BusinessEurope, the European employers' group, was supportive of ACTA and called on MEPs to wait for the EU Court of Justice ruling before voting on the text.
"European companies support ACTA and ask MEPs to vote in favour of adoption of this very important international agreement", BusinessEurope said in a statement. "We regret that the parliamentary debate has become so controversial and maybe on the verge of voting against ACTA," the association said before the vote.
Oxfam strongly welcomed the Parliament’s vote against ACTA, according to the NGO's spokesperson Leïla Bodeux. “The European Commission, who has been a significant driving force behind ACTA, must now refrain from seeking to introduce any other rules that would endanger the lives of people needing affordable medicines in the developing world,” Bodeux said.
“ACTA was drafted to allow itself to be revised without consulting the European Parliament. Such a power grab has thankfully been repelled,” stated Director-General of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) Monique Goyens.
The Federation of European Publishers (FEP) considers the Parliament’s vote damaging for European intellectual property, jobs and the economy: “Unfortunately the treaty got off on the wrong foot in the Parliament, and the real significant merits of the treaty did not prevail,” Anne Bergman-Tahon, director of FEP, said.
Alan C. Drewsen, executive director of the International Trademark Association (INTA), said: “We expect that ACTA will move ahead without the EU, which is a significant loss for the 27 member states.”
“While we welcome the Parliament’s efforts to be seen as responsive to public concerns, organisations representing sectors employing over 120 million workers in Europe were calling for the adoption of ACTA,” said Jeffrey P. Hardy, director for ICC’s initiative Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP).
Frances Moore, chief executive of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), commented that “We now await the ruling of the Court of Justice of the EU, and urge the European Parliament to make effective IPR enforcement a top priority in our external trade policy.”
“Parliament says no to ACTA but stresses that ’global coordination of IP protection is vital’. We respect their position,” added Johannes Studinger, head of UNI MEI Global Union.
// EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
The centre-right European People Party (EPP) supported ACTA and was disappointed with the vote outcome. Group Shadow Rapporteur and Swedish MEP Christofer Fjellner commented: “Today’s decision to vote down ACTA has serious consequences and is irresponsible as the majority refused to wait for the legal assessment by the ECJ.”
In contrast, the President of the Party of European Socialists (PES) Sergei Stanishev celebrated ACTA's rejection. “Today’s victory is a victory for mobilisation, for transparency and for democracy.”
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE) defended the Parliament’s vote: “The agreement in particular suffers from the fact that the major counterfeiters are not signatories. The right to intellectual property deserves a more thorough treatment and that is why the Commission should reconsider its approach.”
Italian MEP and ALDE spokesman on counterfeiting within the International Trade Committee, Niccolo Rinaldi added: “The ACTA tragi-comedy is over and this is a good outcome for citizens, for internet freedom, and for the European institutions.”
Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake, ALDE spokesperson for digital freedom in the world within the International Trade and the Foreign Affairs Committees, continued: "Today marks a victory for European democracy and for digital freedoms.”
The rejection of the ACTA anti-counterfeiting treaty was welcomed by Welsh MEP Jill Evans, president of the party Plaid Cymru: “I’m pleased that the European Parliament has stood up to pressure from big business and rejected this flawed agreement.”
“I am delighted we have said goodbye to ACTA once and for all,” said member of the Scottish National Party and MEP Alyn Smith. “We need to see improvement in the area of copyright and patent enforcement without the impairment of civil liberties and access to information and medicines,” he added.
“We welcome the support of a decisive majority of MEPs for rejecting ACTA today; this is the just and democratic response to the mass mobilisation by citizens across Europe against ACTA,” Swedish MEP and group spokesperson on ACTA Amelia Andersdotter of the Pirate Party said.