Considerable misunderstanding about what the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is, and especially what it is not, should be addressed before the European Court of Justice gives its verdict within two years, federations protecting copyrights told EURACTIV.
Representatives of several federations acting in the field of copyright said they expected the recent decision of the European Commission to refer the controversial agreement to Europe's highest court would lead to the confirmation that this treaty, recently signed by most EU countries (see background), is in line with fundamental European rights.
However, the business lobbyists admitted that referring ACTA to the court was a setback since a ruling could take one year or two years.
Jeffrey P. Hardy, coordinator of BASCAP, the initiative of the International Chamber of Commerce to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy, said he was surprised that ACTA "got so much attention" and led to protests across Europe.
Commenting on the referral of ACTA to the European court, he said that his organisation was planning to use the time available to explain "what is in and what is not in" the treaty.
Hardy regretted the many "misunderstandings" about ACTA. In the European Parliament, he said that even MEPs who had previously been very strong supporters of ACTA have recently been expressing "concern and doubt".
ACTA has been under scrutiny for some time and has been the subject of several votes in the European Parliament that were won by the pro-copyright camp. But now many MEPs admit that people have not been properly informed about the negotiations.
The time available provides MEPs an "terrific opportunity" to have a balanced view on issues they see as very critical to their constituents, Hardy said.
"It gives us a terrific opportunity to inform people what ACTA is all about", Hardy added, highlighting a BASCAP report – ACTA in the EU – A Practical Analysis – intended to dispel the misunderstandings.
Marius Schneider of the European Communities Trade Mark Association (ECTA) said the study explains "in comprehensible terms" what ACTA is about. He admitted that for a non-specialist in law, some legal texts could appear as "worrying".
'Most texts refer to physical counterfeiting'
Candice Li, manager for external relations of the US-based International Trademark Association (INTA), stressed that most of the ACTA texts were referring to physical counterfeiting, not content sharing on the internet.
Many fears expressed by protestors are related to the internet and the censoring of users and the attacking of end users. Out of the 45 articles contained in the ACTA agreement, 44 have "nothing to do with online enforcement", she said.
"Only one section deals with enforcement in the digital environment, and within it, there is one provision on infringement. What it says is that enforcement measures that apply offline can apply online."
Li compared a physical store that sells counterfeit goods, like toothpaste or batteries, to websites selling the same kinds of products. ACTA says that if law-enforcement authorities can take action against physical stores, they should be able to do the same on an online store, she insisted.
"It's not about file sharing. There is nothing that says that internet providers need to monitor users, or that a person who puts a link to his favourite song on Facebook is going to get arrested. There is nothing in ACTA about that," the INTA representative said.
Hardy also defended the accord. "There is nothing in ACTA about internet filtering, nothing about domain name blocking, nothing about 'three strikes' [internet disconnection in case of repeated offenses], nothing about internet censorship," he said.
"And nothing on searches on laptops," Schneider added, referring to the widespread expectations that customs authorities would check personal computers or music players for unlicensed software or content.
Li added that contrary to rumours, internet service providers would not be required to spy on their clients. ACTA actually limits the liability of ISPs, she said.