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30th Jul 2016

EU countries sign unpopular anti-counterfeit treaty

  • Anti-counterfeit proposals have sparked outrage (Photo: Billy R)

The European Commission and 22 EU member states have signed up to a controversial trade agreement in a move marked by cyber attacks and street protests.

Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands and Slovakia were the only EU countries not to put pen to paper at the signing ceremony in Tokyo on Thursday (26 January) of the so-called Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta).

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The European Commission told EUobserver the hold-up is "purely procedural" and that they will come on board shortly.

The international treaty was created in behind-closed-doors talks between EU countries and select other World Trade Organisation members over the past five years to enforce intellectual property rights on both digital and physical products.

The commission says the EU loses some €8 billion every year from counterfeit items which flood its markets and that Acta will protect jobs.

It will become EU law after it is ratified by the European Parliament and member states.

The treaty arouses strong emotions among pro-free-speech campaigners, who say it gives authorities too much power, going beyond the equally controversial US Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa).

In signs of a new crackdown on internet freedoms, the US' Federal Bureau of Investigation in recent days flexed its muscles over online file-sharing website Megaupload.

Dutch police acting on US requests arrested one of its founding members and a similar sting operation took place on the other side of the world in New Zealand.

Acta critics believe signatories will not only gang up with internet providers against 'undesirable' internet users but could also exploit it to undermine access to generic medicine in developing countries.

The Tokyo events saw notable protests in the EU capital and in Poland.

The European Parliament's website was taken off line on Thursday as hackers bombarded it with a 300,000 hit-a-second denial of service attack. In Warsaw, thousands took to the streets shouting slogans such as "No to censorship" and "A free internet."

Its passage through the EU parliament could be difficult amid strong distrust in some parts of the assembly.

The French Socialist MEP Kader Arif who drafted the parliament's report on Acta resigned as rapporteur on Thursday.

He called the treaty "a masquerade" and said it was rushed through without proper public consultation.

Meanwhile, the Green group has accused parliament of burying a negative assessment by its legal services carried out last year.

"Numerous analyses over the past few months have raised serious doubts about the compatibility of Acta with EU law, particularly provisions on fundamental rights,” German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht said.

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