Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

Focus

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

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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. North Macedonia EU-membership talks set for June
  2. EU ups benefits rights for mobile workers
  3. Chinese leader visits Italy, France as Rome joins 'Silk Road'
  4. EU agrees to sanction political parties breaching data rules
  5. EPP votes Wednesday on future of Orban's party
  6. Nordic MEP candidates in first ever joint EU election debate
  7. Merkel: I will fight to the 'last hour' for orderly Brexit
  8. EU affairs ministers demand Brexit clarity from London

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

All about the European Parliament elections 2019

EUobserver's new magazine is meant to help readers prepare for the European Parliament elections, no matter their level of knowledge. You can download and read the entire magazine now.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Latest News

  1. US glyphosate verdict gives ammunition to EU activists
  2. Have a good reason for Brexit extension, Barnier tells UK
  3. EU countries push for new rule of law surveillance
  4. EU rolls out €525m for military projects, but bars illegal tech
  5. May to seek Brexit extension amid UK 'constitutional crisis'
  6. Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides
  7. My plan for defending rule of law in EU
  8. Anti-corruption lawyer wins first round of Slovak elections

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us