ACTA back under scrutiny as European Parliament prepares to carry out key votes
The controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is back under scrutiny as the European Parliament prepares to carry out a series of key votes.
ACTA seeks to curb the spread of illegally downloaded copyrighted material online.
However, critics say it is a potential threat to freedom of speech online.
To date 22 member states have signed the treaty – but it is yet to be formally ratified by the EU.
The Committee on Legal Affairs (Juri), Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) and the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) will each vote on the crucial concerns surrounding the proposals.
While the agreement covers the counterfeiting of physical items, such as pharmaceuticals, it is the measures relating to pirated material on the internet that have caused most concern among campaigners.
The agreement suggests setting international standards over how copyright infringements are dealt with. Preventive measures include possible imprisonment and fines.
The three committees will issue judgements on the possible impact of the treaty on the trading rights of the European Union; the human rights impact on citizens, and the possible effects on related industries.
The outcomes will influence the decision of the International Trade Committee (INTA) which will vote on 20-21 June to determine the formal recommendation on ACTA to the European Parliament. INTA’s appointed rapporteur on ACTA, David Martin, has strongly condemned the treaty.
In April, David Martin said: “The intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties.”
Rapporteurs advising LIBE and ITRE have also recommended rejecting the treaty, concurring with David Martin’s comments.
However, Marielle Gallo, who has advised Juri, has said she is not against the agreement.
The INTA vote will heavily influence the final decision on ACTA by the European Parliament. This vote is expected to take place on 2 July.
If it passes, the agreement will then come into force across the EU. If rejected, ACTA will be scrapped entirely.
The treaty has provoked discontent across the world since an initial draft was released by Wikileaks in 2008.
Open-rights campaigners argued the measures were being debated in secret.
Across Europe thousands of protesters demonstrated to voice their objections to the agreement.
The treaty’s backers have said it would not alter existing laws, and would instead provide protection for content creators in the face of increasing levels of online piracy.
Nevertheless, the proposals have encountered a slew of objections.
In February, the European Commission referred the matter to the European Court of Justice to judge on whether ACTA complied with human-rights laws.
This process was expected to delay ratification proceedings, but members of INTA voted to go ahead with pre-planned timetable.
Euro MP Kader Arif, who resigned from his post as rapporteur for ACTA in January, said he did so in protest at the “masquerade” of negotiations.
Meanwhile, several countries distanced themselves from the agreement, including Germany and Poland, where large protests took place.
Most recently, lawmakers in the Netherlands urged rejection of the treaty over fears that it breached the country’s constitution.
The UK, which signed the treaty in January, said it still backed ACTA.
Outside the EU, the treaty also has the support of the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea.