This week and next there will be several key votes in European Parliament Committees on ACTA, the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
In advance of these votes, European digital rights group EDRi and AccessNow managed to obtain documents showing European Commission notes on four of the earlier negotiation rounds.
The notes, which were previously redacted, cover the meetings in Paris during 2008, Rabat and Seoul in 2009 and Guadalajara in 2010. EDRi have conducted their analysis and are disappointed with their findings.
“The documents made public today provide an extensive guide to the failures of the European Commission to negotiate effectively on behalf of European citizens and businesses. They also provide an insight into the ways in which the Commission’s public relations ‘spin’ seeks to hide these failures,” EDRi explain.
Ever since the very existence of ACTA was confirmed, the issue of transparency (or lack of it) has been high on the agenda. Little surprise then that this area is the first to receive criticism.
“From the earliest stages, the Commission made weak and unsuccessful efforts to have a transparent process,” EDRi reports. “The EU ultimately agreed to work to keep all versions away from the public.”
The documents also show that the Commission failed to handle the United States effectively, having agreed to be bound by a confidentiality agreement that created a huge advantage for the US.
“Specifically, [the agreement] permitted the US to show ACTA documents to ‘selected stakeholders’ under non-disclosure agreements while the EU had no equivalent mechanism, thereby giving a big advantage to the stakeholders selected by the US authorities,” EDRi add.
Perhaps of even more concern were problems closer to home experienced with the Swedish Presidency of the European Council. At one stage the Presidency proposed not keeping other Member States in the picture “..with the explicit intention of preventing Italy and the United Kingdom from raising concerns about penal sanctions for online infringements.”
The much-discussed “3 strikes” regime for dealing with illicit file-sharing also raises its head as a thorny issue. After the Commission first denied but was then forced to admit that negotiations on disconnections for infringement had taken place, it later said that all such proposals had been completely rejected. However, the meeting notes show no such discussion or conclusion.
The criticisms by EDRi continue through several more pages of apparent failures, including that the Commission knew that it was lying when it said that ACTA is “only about enforcement and not about substantive law.” For Europeans, EDRi’s conclusion is damning.
“The comprehensive failure of the European negotiators is concerning for a number of reasons, and begs the question of what kind of influence the EU would have in the unelected ACTA Committee if the Treaty passed and was implemented.
“It also underlines the fact that this agreement, from beginning to end, was driven by the United States — the documents were drafted in the image of US copyright law, do not include particular aspects of IP that are considered important to the European economy, and even on such seemingly trivial aspects, like defining what is meant by ‘digital environment’ could not be achieved by the European representations,” EDRi concludes.
So what next for ACTA?
“There are four committee votes coming up – three this week and one next week,”
EDRi Executive Director Joe McNamee told TorrentFreak. “It is now or never.”
The four newly unredacted documents can be found below (pdf)