Members of the European Parliament are calling on the European Commission to stop keeping it in the dark, and tell citizens what being negotiated in the ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement). In particular, they want to know about the measures in ACTA which threaten the Internet.
Six MEPs have now tabled questions demanding public statements from the EU on the ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement) negotiations. This puts the pressure on the European Commission's negotiators in DG Trade to come clean. Specifically, there is interest to know the details of the negotiations in respect of the Internet and online copyright.
The Parliament is likely to be
responding to the new Commissioners, who all admitted they had been briefed on ACTA, whilst the Parliament, which represents the citizens of Europe, is being kept in the dark.
ACTA is believed to impose liability at some level onto Internet Service Providers to enforce copyright, and threatens swingeing* measures against Internet users.
A previous response from the Commission in October 2009 explained that the ACTA negotiations last Autumn focussed specifically on Internet issues related enforcement of intellectual property. Other issues, including criminal sanctions, had been discussed in previous ACTA rounds.
The questions from the European Parliament have been tabled both to the Commission, which is handling the ACTA negotiations, and to the Council, which represents the Member State governments, and is known to have drawn up a position paper on ACTA. Written questions to the Commission are published, with their answers, in the Official Journal of the European Union. That means that this is an official communication and it puts the position of the Commision firmly on the record.
The policy areas addressed fall into three groups: intermediary ( ISP ) liability; 3-strikes measuers to enforce copyright against peer-to-peer downloading; and transparency and the Commission's mandate to negotiate.
Britta Thomsen is concerned about how ACTA could be back-door to bring online surveillance measures, and asked the Council to respond.
All of the other questions were addressed to the Commission.
Alexander Alvaro, who catalysed the Amendment 138 vote of May 2009, has put a series of detailed questions about the content of the ACTA In particular, he asks Will the proposed ACTA make changes to substantive intellectual property law, or will it be limited to harmonising enforcement measures? If the former, why?
Alvaro also asks: Will the proposed ACTA impose obligations with respect to the Internet, and if so, why?. Can it be stated authoritatively that the agreement will not require or recommend a ‘Three Strikes' requirement being implemented by Internet services and/or Internet access providers?
'Require or recommend' is a good way to phrase this question. It probes to see how far the ACTA negotiators are going without any scrutiny from the Parliament.
Axel Voss, a new MEP from northern Germany, asked whether ACTA will impact on the mere conduit provision in the E-commerce directive. He also asked about compliance with the Telecoms Package agreement of November 2009, notably Article 1.3a of the Framework directive, or as he called it, the Amendment 138 issue.
Christian Engstrom also asked whether the measures being discussed in ACTA will comply with the final agreement in the EU Telecoms Package.
The implication is that ACTA will try to get member states to impose sanctions on Internet users without going through a court process.
Francoise Castex, of France, reiterated the call for transparency and asked for assurances in respect of users' copyright exceptions, and the mere conduit provision.
Ivo Belet, a Belgian MEP, asked: Does the Commission consider the purpose of this proposal to be restricted to tackling large-scale crime without violating civil liberties, thus falling within the scope of the negotiations?
Now, what is this question trying to do? Consider that Ivo Belet's name was on the Telecoms Package copyright amendments as a co-signatory - specifically on the ‘co-operation' amendment (tabled in Spring 2008) which calls on member states to get ISPs to work with rights-holders in respect of online copyright. Does this question seek to establish that the Commission does have a mandate to negotiate on copyright enforcement, and to give it wiggle-room in respect of Internet measures such as 3-strikes and intermediary liability. Perhaps Mr Belet could answer that.
Watch this one very carefully.
La Quadrature du Net is calling on European citizens to campaign against the ACTA, which it says is circumventing the democratic processes, and enforcing a fundamentally unadapted copyright regime in order to control the Internet.
Michael Geist has a summary of the recent ACTA meeting in Mexico.
*From the old English word "swinge" it means far-reaching, or very severe.
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2010) Pressure mounts on EU to come clean on ACTA http://www.iptegrity.com 5 February 2010