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.

MEPs say no to ACTA

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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.”