In an announcement this morning, EU trade chief Karel De Gucht said that following discussion with fellow Commissioners, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) will be referred to the European Court of Justice.
ACTA, a treaty aimed at harmonizing copyright enforcement globally, has been mired in controversy from its inception not least since its formulation has taken place behind closed doors. Critics fear it would introduce more online censorship and increased surveillance of Internet users.
“We are planning to ask Europe’s highest court to assess whether ACTA is incompatible – in any way – with the EU’s fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression and information or data protection and the right to property in case of intellectual property,” said De Gucht.
During the past few weeks protests against ACTA have swept across Europe, with citizens taking to the streets in several major cities. De Gucht said he understands why people are worried.
“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,” the trade chief said.
“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 rumor that has dominated social media sites and blogs in recent weeks.”
De Gucht insists that ACTA will not lead to the censorship or closing down of websites and will not hinder freedom on the Internet or freedom of speech, but said that the referral to the European Court of Justice would help “cut through this fog of uncertainty.”
So far the ACTA agreement has been signed by 22 EU member states, but several countries including Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Bulgaria and Czech Republic have backed away (at least temporarily) from ratifying the agreement following the recent protests.
Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States signed ACTA last October, leaving acceptance in the European Parliament and EU member states as the final hurdle before it goes into effect. The Court of Justice’s view on ACTA’s compatibility with EU’s fundamental rights and freedoms will be key for many lawmakers.
Previously researchers concluded that ACTA does indeed violate human rights. Whether the Court of Justice will reach a similar conclusion has yet to be seen, but in two previous rulings on anti-piracy filters the court placed the rights of the general public above those of copyright holders.