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Another interesting twist on the ACTA story came out of the European Parliament London seminar last week. The rights-holders, who seem to be struggling to hold their nerves  at the moment, are now saying that ACTA ‘only’ applies to ‘commercial scale’ activities. But this is precisely one of ACTA's problem points, according to  the European Parliament’s rapporteur.

  The issue of ‘commercial scale’ was referred to at several points during the question and answer session.

 Susie Winter, representing the Alliance Against IP Theft, defended  ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement) by saying that the agreement  is only about commercial scale activities. If I understand her point correctly, it would therefore not concern individuals.

 However, the European Parliament’s ACTA rapporteur, David Martin, was also speaking at the seminar. Mr Martin  said that ‘commercial scale’ is one point that he is not happy about in ACTA, because there is no definition of it:

 “Usually people say the devil is in the detail. The problem with ACTA is that the devil is in the lack of detail” he said.

 And on the specific issue of defining  commercial scale  Mr Martin said: “Had ACTA been more transparent, these issues could have been dealt with at the time, For example, commercial scale could have been defined in a footnote. “

 David Martin  seemed to be saying that if the ACTA process had been more open, and there had been more discussion about it, then issues such as this could have been addressed at the time of the negotiations, and there would not be conflict about it now.

 There has been a discussion bubbling under the surface for some time about the definition of ‘commercial scale’ activities. It’s relevant because it may determine whether or not someone is deemed to have committed an infringement which can be sanctioned under ACTA measures.

 Ms Winter   suggested that ‘commercial scale’ is defined in the TRIPs agreement and in Britain’s Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, adding ‘the courts are still the ultimate arbiter’.

 Notwithstanding that I cannot find such a definition in the TRIPs agreement, it’s interesting therefore that the rights-holders are now suggesting that  the  courts will be involved. As they have been explicitly trying to bypass court processes, one might ask if this could be a slight U-turn on their part.

 However, Ms Winter gave  a hint as to the  possible definition of commercial scale. It’s not just about those who charge directly for a purchase or subscription, it’s about people who make ‘huge sums’ from advertising. 

I would then infer that if  advertising is the criteria,  the ACTA targets will be search engines, linking sites, torrent trackers, streaming services, and possibly at a stretch, the ISPs.

 On that basis, how should we rate ACTA?

See European Parliament go-ahead for ACTA vote for more on the European Parliament London ACTA seminar  

This is an original article from You may re-publish it under a Creative Commons licence, but you should cite my name and provide a link back to  Media and Academics – please cite as Monica Horten, ACTA: what is commercial scale?, 22  May   2012 . Commercial users - please contact me


Iptegrity in brief is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I’ve been analysing analysing digital policy since 2008. Way back then, I identified how issues around rights can influence Internet policy, and that has been a thread throughout all of my research. I hold a PhD in EU Communications Policy from the University of Westminster (2010), and a Post-graduate diploma in marketing.   I’ve served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe  Committee on Internet Freedoms, and was involved in a capacity building project in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. I am currently (from June 2022)  Policy Manager - Freedom of Expression, with the Open Rights Group. For more, see About Iptegrity is made available free of charge for  non-commercial use, Please link-back & attribute Monica Horten. Thank you for respecting this.

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