EU Court of Justice to decide if ACTA breaches fundamental rights

22 Feb 2012

The European Court of Justice is to review whether the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is incompatible with the EU’s fundamental rights and freedoms, the European Commission said today.

Commissioner Karl De Gucht said he and his fellow commissioners agree that the passing of the controversial ACTA trade deal should be brought before Europe’s highest court.

Last month, 22 countries agreed to sign ACTA. However, in recent weeks hundreds of thousands of Europeans took to the streets to oppose the controversial agreement that could have ramifications for internet freedom.

Germany’s foreign office last week withdrew instructions to sign ACTA. It has postponed its signing to await the outcome of a European Parliament vote on ACTA in June.

The agreement is designed to fight the trade of counterfeit goods, including pharmaceuticals, but also encourages ISPs to take co-operative measures to fight copyright, which could result in repressive measures, such as a three-strikes rule.

The clandestine nature of how ACTA came about, with little or no public consultation, is considered an affront to civil liberties and in recent weeks the EU’s principal rapporteur (investigator) MEP Kader Arif resigned in protest and slammed the whole process as a “charade”.

The freedom of the internet

De Gucht said the European Commission has a responsibility to provide the public with the most detailed and accurate information available. As such, the European Court of Justice will clarify the legality or not of ACTA.

“In recent weeks, the ratification process of ACTA has triggered a Europe-wide debate on ACTA, the freedom of the internet and the importance of protecting Europe’s intellectual property for our economies.

“But let me be very clear: I share people’s concern for these fundamental freedoms. I welcome that people have voiced their concerns so actively – especially over the freedom of the internet. And I also understand that there is uncertainty on what ACTA will really mean for these key issues at the end of the day.

“So I believe that putting ACTA before the European Court of Justice is a needed step. This debate must be based upon facts and not upon the misinformation or rumour that has dominated social media sites and blogs in recent weeks.

“As I have explained before the European Parliament on several occasions, ACTA is an agreement that aims to raise global standards of enforcement of intellectual property rights. These very standards are already enshrined in European law. What counts for us is getting other countries to adopt them so that European companies can defend themselves against blatant ripoffs of their products and works when they do business around the world. 

“This means that ACTA will not change anything in the European Union, but will matter for the European Union,” De Gucht said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years