Sunday

13th Jun 2021

The Acta debate - will innovation be stifled?

  • An Acta protest - the controversial treaty has brought people to the streets (Photo: Agnes Lisik)

Opponents of Acta, the controversial anti-counterfeiting treaty up for vote in the European Parliament in July, say, among other things, that it would stifle innovation. Advocates say the exact opposite.

According to the text of the treaty, its sole purpose is to protect the right to intellectual property and, thereby, innovation. People would not make new products if these could easily be copied and distributed without payment.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

“The parties to this agreement,” it says in the preamble, “desire to combat […] the proliferation of counterfeit and pirated goods, [which] undermines legitimate trade and sustainable development of the world economy."

Who could ever be opposed to that?

Fear and loathing

Euro-deputies, SMEs, and the European internet industry, however, have come out against the treaty not for its purpose but for its design, citing legal uncertainties.

Their main concern is the apparent vagueness of the text, open to interpretation, which they fear may make life difficult for internet companies.

“This text puts additional obligations on us,” says Maelle Lelardic, spokesperson for EuroISPA, an association of European internet service providers. “And therefore additional costs.”

Article 27 of the treaty - reviled against more than any other part of the text - commits its signatories to “endeavour to promote cooperative efforts within the business community to effectively address trademark and copyright [...] infringement”.

According to EuroISPA, in a statement together with representatives of the European telecommunications industry, “this would enable implementation of EU-wide cooperation obligations such as an extra-judicial ‘graduated response’ mechanism”.

Acta, they fear, may force them to actively police the internet in search of copyright pirates - and, of their own accord, kick them out if they do not toe the line.

Big vs small

A second argument, says Sebastiano Toffaletti, secretary-general of Pin-SME, an association of European IT SMEs, is that “Acta will benefit the big companies and do the opposite to the small ones”.

The treaty, he says, would enable big companies to threaten the internet service providers with legal action if they refuse to take down a small company’s content that may be in breach of the big company’s copyright.

“Big companies have so many patents,” he says. “They file as many as they can, if only in a defensive way.”

But even the internet giants are not entirely convinced. Jeremy Rollison, spokesman for Edima, an association of digital media companies whose members include Amazon, Google and Nokia, says: “We share some of the concerns [about Acta] relating to the potential impact on the EU liability regime.”

Marietje Schaake, Dutch liberal MEP and one of the parliament’s loudest opponents of Acta, agrees that the treaty would stifle innovation - “absolutely,” she says - but for a different reason.

She says that Europe's copyright system today is fragmented and outdated. “American companies don’t even bother to bring their content onto the EU market.” Acta, she says, would only consolidate the old regime and make it more difficult to reform.

Swedish Pirate MEP Amelia Andersdotter agrees. “While the ambition of ACTA is to strengthen EU industries, it appears to be contrary to the ambition [...] to make Europe the scene for cutting edge internet innovation,” she writes in her draft opinion to be voted on by the parliament’s industry committee.

Be happy

For its part, the European Commission maintains that nobody has anything to worry about.

“There is no provision in Acta that changes the current role of internet service providers, as is often claimed,” says EU trade spokesperson John Clancy.

He says that existing EU legislation “is quite clear regarding the impossibility of imposing general obligations on ISPs to monitor the information they transmit” - something that was confirmed, he says, in a recent ruling by the EU court of justice. “And this will not be modified by Acta.”

In the case of a dispute, he says, it will be up to the European Court of Justice to provide legal interpretation. “This is legal certainty, not uncertainty.”

He says that by protecting the right to intellectual property, Acta will “help protect Europe’s raw material - innovations and ideas.”

BusinessEurope, the largest representation in Brussels of industry in Europe, agrees.

“To the contrary, Acta will boost Europe’s innovation,” says spokesperson Ilias Konteas. He says that the treaty will provide legal clarity to those who export to other Acta signatories - currently a handful of countries aside from the US, Japan, and South Korea.

“Exporters will know what to expect,” he says - something that is especially beneficial to “SMEs that cannot afford to pay for legal advice”.

Innovation

As the EU continues to struggle with the effects of the economic crisis, the importance of investing in innovation and research is increasingly been emphasized. But how much money is enough and where should it be spent? EUobserver investigates.

Acta unraveling as Netherlands joins nay-sayers

The controversial anti-counterfeit treaty Acta is in danger of unraveling, with Dutch and Australian politicians the latest to cast doubt on it, despite a rearguard effort by the EU Commission and the creative industries lobby to save it.

EU innovation efforts unknown

The efforts of the EU to turn the old continent into an “innovation union” are largely unknown to business leaders, according to a survey by global accounting firm Ernst & Young.

News in Brief

  1. EU top court fast-tracks rule-of-law case to October
  2. Hungary's Fidesz wants to ban LGBTIQ content for under-18s
  3. MEPs join EU citizens on farm-animal cage ban
  4. Council of Europe urges Russia to release Navalny 'immediately'
  5. China's anti-sanctions law alarms EU businesses
  6. Airlines seek to water down EU passengers' rights
  7. EU leaders join call for further probe into Covid origins
  8. Liberal MEPs under fire over Babiš abstention

Exclusive

MEP office expenses kept secret on dubious evidence

It would require between 40 to 75 additional staff to oversee how MEPs spend their monthly €4,500 lump sum on office supplies, according to the European Parliament. An EUobserver Freedom of Information request reveals those calculations are flawed.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU urges Poland to step back from 'legal primacy' clash
  2. Pressure builds on EU to back WTO vaccine-patent waiver
  3. EU anti-fraud agency cracked down on fake pandemic supplies
  4. MEP office expenses kept secret on dubious evidence
  5. What the EU public think of EU pesticide regulation
  6. MEPs set to take EU Commission to court on rule-of-law
  7. EU takes legal action against Germany on bonds ruling
  8. MEPs demand new EU biodiversity law by next year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us