We Need Copyright Reform, Not ACTA!

As a Member of the European Parliament, I very much welcome the increased attention the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has received in the past weeks. It has taken a while for massive outcry to emerge, but we are seeing protest voices getting louder and louder.

The internet is a great tool to alert politicians to all the dangers of this treaty, just as the internet was a tool to mobilize people against the SOPA and PIPA bills in the US. For any lobby to be effective, however, it must be fact based. Misinformed criticism helps those supporting ACTA.

The dangers and threats of the ACTA treaty are shared by free-speech advocates and access to medicine groups alike. ACTA is seeking to deal with a number of widely differing issues, and hence does not do a good job at any of them. Additionally, there are serious concerns about the collateral damage that ACTA would cause.

Regrettably, concerns by businesses, NGO’s and politicians have not led to a better result. This is partly due to the intransparant way in which ACTA has been established and negotiated. As a democratically elected representative, I believe it is not the role of government to protect outdated business models, and I do believe it is our job to ensure democratic oversight.

Besides zooming in on the details of what ACTA will and will not do, taking a step back and looking at the broader picture is also important. As someone who advocates copyright reform, notably the harmonization of copyright laws in Europe, I do not believe stricter enforcement of outdated systems is helpful or relevant. Enforcement is not even possible in many cases, and not without violating people’s fundamental rights.

Yet there is a big push towards enforcing outdated legal structures of copyright by the entertainment industry. ACTA will lock any signatory country into a system of copyright enforcement, leaving the democratic process disadvantaged to enact necessary reform of our laws to suit the digital age.

The fast development of the information society and all the innovations we have seen in the last 15 or so years have changed the way we live. People can enforce their fundamental rights of access to information, and free speech with the help of the internet. Human rights violations are documented and shared across the world, and the way we access and share information and culture such as news, music and films has changed forever. Most copyright rules were developed for the printing press and codified internationally before radio had even been invented.

Some of the most important EU laws regulating the internet were established before social media and peer-to-peer sharing took off. The E-commerce Directive of 2000 and the Copyright Directive of 2001 were enacted without foresight of the new services which were developed over the last 10 years. Time and time again, it has been proven that the Directives and their national implementations do not suit the digital age that followed directly afterwards. The fragmentation of European copyright puts the EU, which is widely known for its wealth in culture, at a competitive disadvantage in comparison to the United States.

Copyright and E-Commerce need to suit the needs of the advanced information society we now live in. To enable a flourishing Digital Single Market in Europe, we need to analyse case-law of the last 12 years regarding the internet, hear from creators, innovators and consumers. If we want to serve consumers, artists and businesses well, we need to find a new balance in copyright. Every aspect of copyright needs to be discussed: the exclusive rights, limitations and exceptions, collective management, enforcement, etc. Only then should we discuss how to enforce the new found balance on the international arena, such as with ACTA.

ACTA must not be passed. Let’s focus on reform to allow for the opportunities of the internet to bloom, instead of allowing outdated business models to limit the free market, and to criminalize audiences. Additionally, health threats as a result of counterfeit medicine deserve a better solution than ACTA. Join me in voicing your concern with this treaty, so we can establish flexible copyright rules which are fit for the 21st century.

About The Author

Marietje Schaake is a Member of European Parliament (D66/ALDE Group). She is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), as well as the Committee on Culture, Media and Education (CULT).

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