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EU vote rejects ACTA copyright legislation

July 08, 2012

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The European Parliament has overwhelmingly voted against proposed copyright legislation, the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The European Union (EU) parliament's members voted 478 to 39 against approving the treaty, with 165 abstentions.

Despite the vote, the European Commission (EC) says it is not giving up on the agreement, and has asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to rule on whether ACTA presents a threat to civil liberties - a process which could take a year or longer to deliberate.

The European Parliament vote followed the recommendations of five separate parliamentary committees, all of which had recommended discarding the controversial global copyright pact. Members of the committees on the civil liberties, legal affairs, industry, international development, and international trade committees had all voted against ACTA, following a number of statements from key parliament members (MEPs) against the treaty.

While there is a possibility the EC will resurrect ACTA if the ECJ decides in favour of the treaty, it is increasingly likely - following such a heavy defeat - that it will look to present further copyright legislation under a different flag, effectively making ACTA dead in the water.

ACTA was set up to clamp down on counterfeiting and illegal online file-sharing (dubbed "piracy"), has caused widespread consternation and protests, due to several ambiguous clauses concerning how it could be implemented, including the potential to allow Internet services providers (ISPs) to block users caught downloading products illegally, and to monitor their online activities. To date, 22 EU member states, as well as the European Commission, the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea have signed ACTA, but none of the signatories have fully ratified the treaty into law. The EU parliament vote has not only killed the anti-counterfeiting agreement in the bloc (no member states will be able to join the agreement), but has put its global prospects in jeopardy, effectively removing a huge swathe of key economic giants from the signatories.

However, the US government continues to back the treaty, saying it will help protect the intellectual property that is "essential to American jobs in innovative and creative industries", while the International Trademark Association said it expected ACTA to "move ahead without the EU", warning of "a significant loss for the 27 member states".

The vote reflects the shifting mood across much of the developed world against regulation of the Internet, following the failure of bills in the US like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), and the ongoing issue of net neutrality. Meanwhile, the EU has recently called for the formation of a strong agreement between Europe and the United States on personal data protection, saying only "stronger interoperability of standards" can provide the "much needed legal certainty" to businesses and citizens. 

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