Negotiations over the new Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) have been described as a ‘charade’ by the MP overseeing the issue, who resigned shortly thereafter.
Kader Arif, the European Parliament’s rapporteur (investigator) for the ACTA resigned on Friday, just one day after 22 EU member states (including the UK) signed the agreement.
"I condemn the whole process which led to the signature of this agreement: there has been no consultation with civil society organisations, a lack of transparency since the beginning of negotiations, repeated delays of the signature of the text without any explanation given, and a rejection of Parliament’s recommendations as given in several resolutions of our assembly," he said.
Arif went on to describe ‘unprecedented maneuvers’ and backroom dealings which saw the proposed agreement rushed to avoid the public being alerted to its content – depriving Parliament of its right of expression and stopping it carrying out the demands of its citizens.
ACTA is a multi-lateral trade agreement designed to establishing an international standard for intellectual property rights enforcement.
The agreement has already been signed by the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea, and will set up a new international body operating outside the UN or WTO to oversee intellectual property protection.
The treaty still needs to be ratified by the European Parliament before it can be enacted. A debate is scheduled to take place in June.
The treaty has been extremely controversial since the details, then secret, were released by Wikileaks in 2008, more than two years after negotiations first began.
Since then, the trade agreement has been described as ‘policy laundering‘ by opposition groups such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation. While ACTA initially appeared to be concerned with the counterfeit of physical goods, it incorporates all intellectual property – from medicine to movies.
ACTA would potentially allow the unnamed new organisation to perform invasive searches of personal computers, and increase surveillance on individual’s online activities.
Arif, as ACTA’s rapporteur says he resigned to draw attention to the issue.
"Whether it is [ACTAs] impact on civil liberties, the responsibilities it imposes on the providers of Internet access, the impact on the manufacture of generic drugs or the lack of protection it offers to our Geographic Indicators, this agreement may have a major impact on the lives of our citizens. Yet everything is being done to ensure the European Parliament has no say," he said.
"So today, in submitting this report in my charge, I would send a strong signal and alert the public about this unacceptable situation. I will not participate in this charade."
The EU has maintained that "anything you can do legally today is still legal after the ratification of ACTA," and that Europe is losing €8 billion annually through counterfeit goods flooding the market.
The UK IP office has also backed ACTA, stating that the international trade on goods infringing intellectual property rights is now worth more than $250 billion a year.
After Poland signed the bill, despite a protest by its opposition party, the government saw widespread protest and Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski’s website was hacked by a group claiming to be hacking collective Anonymous.
ACTA and regional bills of its ilk have proven incredibly unpopular worldwide amongst the public, as Governments struggle to balance the IP protection demands of large media conglomerates against the right to freedom of expression for the individual.
The US has just been through a painful debate over its SOPA and PIPA acts (read CBR’s coverage here), which favoured corporate interests. After mass online protest, including the blackout of Wikipedia and other major websites, the two bills have been postponed for the time being.
ACTA’s final text can be read here.