5th Dec 2023

Commission set for fresh collision course over Acta copy-cat clauses

  • The Commission has rejected claims that it is trying to impose Acta by the back-door (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The European Commission is set for another intellectual property rights clash with MEPs, after leaked documents revealed that proposals from the rejected counterfeit treaty Acta had been included in a draft trade agreement between the EU and Canada.

EU and Canadian officials started negotiations on a bi-lateral trade agreement (CETA) in November 2009 and are expected to reach a final agreement before the end of the year. Like Acta, the trade deal is being drafted in secret, and would require the approval of the European Parliament to enter into force.

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Canada is one of the EU's biggest trade partners, with €52.5 billion of goods being imported and exported between the two in 2011. It was also among the countries to negotiate and sign Acta.

However, alarm bells sounded when provisions contained in the draft chapter on intellectual property rights, which was published on Tuesday (10 July), included criminal liability for "aiding and abetting" copyright infringement alongside strict criminal enforcement rules.

Jérémie Zimmerman, co-founder of the internet campaign group La Quadrature du Net, issued a statement calling on the trade agreement to be scrapped if it contained provisions from the axed treaty. Describing Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht as "the copyright lobbies' lapdog", Zimmerman added that "CETA literally contains the worst of Acta".

Acta was rejected by MEPs in Strasbourg last Wednesday (July 4) by an overwhelming 478 to 39 majority, with MEPs insisting that any attempts to revive it without full re-negotiation would be blocked.

However, the Trade Commissioner's spokesman, John Clancy, dismissed claims that the passages on intellectual property were part of a Commission bid to salvage Acta by stealth.

Using his Twitter account, Clancy explained that the leaked document dated from EU-Canadian discussions in February, months before Acta was rejected by MEPs, and had since been changed.

Meanwhile, articles 27.3 and 27.4 from Acta, which deal with enforcement on the internet, had been removed from the revised CETA text. Echoing the Commission's insistence about the legal implications of Acta, he claimed that "no single provision departs from EU law."

Despite this, the chapter on intellectual property rights includes a series of other passages almost identical to those included in Acta, including rules on enforcement of intellectual property rights, damages, border enforcement and criminal sanctions. Article 23, likely to cause particular concern, defines all commercial scale copyright infringement as criminal. The Commission has so far refused to be drawn on whether these passages are still in the draft agreement.

Speaking with EUobserver, Swedish Pirate party MEP, Amelia Andersdotter, commented that "it would be distressing if the Commission wasn't drawing any experiences from the Acta negotiations".

She added that MEPs had "made our decision clear last week. We don't want this type of agreement."

Meanwhile, Joe McNamee, the executive director of European Digital Rights, warned the Commission against using CETA to salvage parts of Acta.

Any such attempts would be a "hamfisted, politically incompetent and anti-democratic," he said.

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