On 28th February, the European Parliament received a petition containing almost 2.4 million signatures against the implementation of ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement. The petition called for MEPS to “stand for free and open Internet and reject the ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)”.
What is ACTA ? ACTA is an international treaty which aims to create an international standard for the protection of intellectual property rights. As the name suggests, it tackles trade in counterfeit goods, but also features provisions for clamping down on copyright breaches on the Internet. The European Union and 22 of its Member States signed the treaty in January 2012, and it has also been signed by the US, Canada, Australia and Japan amongst others. However, no country has yet ratified the treaty, which needs to be ratified by six signatories before it can come into force.
Why is it so controversial ? The EU claims that ACTA will benefit its citizens, as it will help to protect European innovation and ideas. But as the petition clearly demonstrates, there are many who do not share this view. Opponents feel that it is undemocratic and that it breaches fundamental human rights such as privacy and data protection, and free speech. The website Stop Acta describes the treaty as “a lethal weapon against your rights” and claims that, in making ISPs responsible for what their users put online, it will result in censorship and control over what is published on the net.
MEPs are to discuss the pros and cons of ACTA in the following weeks. Parliament cannot amend ACTA, it can only approve or reject it. In the case of the latter, the agreement would fail. In the case of the former, more protests would doubtless follow on European streets.