With ACTA and Bill Gates on the agenda, the DEVE committee meeting promises to be interesting.
Former Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates is to address the Development committee in the European Parliament tomorrow (24 January). Mr Gates would normally expect to be the star attraction. By an ironic twist of fate, Mr Gates - who is no stranger to anti-piracy measures - may well find that he is the warm-up act for the poker- hot politics of the secretly-drafted copyright treaty known as ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement).
The Development committee certainly has an interesting agenda for tomorrow’s meeting. It opens with an exchange of views with Bill Gates. It moves on to discuss IP rights and genetic resources (may I remind them that the human genome is an open source project, and had it not been so, we would not have derived as much benefit from it). The third item on the agenda is a European Parliament report on human rights, followed by the Development committee (DEVE) draft opinion on ACTA.
ACTA, whose copyright enforcement measures pose a threat to the open Internet, is high on the political agenda. It is arguably higher than Bill Gates' philanthropic foundation. Thus, the DEVE opinion is likely to generate a heated debate. The DEVE opinion contains a number of factual errors, and demonstrates a naïve understanding of ACTA and its possible implications. It maintains the EU official line that ACTA does not go outside the acquis communitaire without recognising that this is a contested point.
The Development committee has not previously dealt with ACTA. It has become involved due to the ACTA’s possible impact on access to medicines, although it could also have an interest in the various bi-lateral agreements with developing countries which increasingly include copyright.
The Development committee rapporteur, Jan Zahradil, comes from the ECR group. This is the same group as the UK Conservatives. Mr Zahradil political position on this issue is so far untested. One must therefore query whether he is at all influenced by his British colleagues, and whether they will try to input the position of the British government. Note that the British Culture Minister, Jeremy Hunt, has been hosting discussions on website blocking.
The Development committee opinion is one of five such documents which will soon be circulating in the European Parliament. Each of the reports and opinions will provide a vehicle for lobbyists to insert their positions. This is, therefore, the launch of a new round in the EU - ACTA copyright battles.
Indeed, this round in the ACTA fight promises to to send out more than a few sparks. It will pitch the French copyright industries right up against the Swedish ‘pirates’. The Legal Affairs committee shadow rapporteur is the Sarkozy-ite, pro-copyright Marielle Gallo. We can expect that she will have her claws sharpened for the Industry committee shadow rapporteur Amelia Andersdotter, the Pirate Party’s second MEP who only recently took up her seat in the Parliament.
Ms Andersdotter is a smart cookie but she will need to watch her back. It’s not difficult to imagine that Mme Gallo would love to see her Swedish rival riding for a fall.
The lead rapporteur, from the International Trade committee, is Kader Arif, a French Socialist. The real question is, how good a referee is he?
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