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COLOGNE, Germany – As Hollywood executives take July 4 off to celebrate Independence Day, politicians in Europe are preparing to spoil their party.
The European Parliament is set to vote Wednesday on the U.S.-backed e Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, which is designed to crack down on intellectual property theft worldwide – whether in the form of online piracy or trade in counterfeit goods. All the signs suggest European politicians will reject ACTA, a vote that would kill the treaty as far as Europe is concerned.
ACTA’s proponents, which include all the major Hollywood studios, as well as the Producers Guild of America, say the treaty is needed to enforce anti-piracy laws across international borders. Karel de Gucht, the European Trade Commissioner, said ACTA will “change nothing about how we use the Internet and social web sites today,” arguing the treaty will only enforce existing law, not extend it.
But the treaty’s many opponents claim it represents a crackdown on freedom of expression and could even violate Europe’s human rights laws. Hundreds of thousands of European citizens have taken to the streets in anti-ACTA protests and millions more have signed petitions calling for their representatives to reject the treaty.
Five European Parliamentary committees, including the powerful International Trade Committee, have also called for a no vote on ACTA. One of the main objections is to the vague wording of the treaty. ACTA spells out legal measures, including fines, for companies violating intellectual property rights on a “commercial scale” but it is not clearly defined what constitutes a “commercial scale” operation.
Four of the European Parliament’s main political blocks: the Socialists, the Democrats, the Greens and the Liberals have all come out against ACTA. The European People’s Party, an association of right-of-center conservative parties and the largest single faction in Parliament, has asked to postpone the vote on ACTA until after the European Court of Justice rules on its legality. A decision by the court could take up to a year.
If Wednesday’s vote goes ahead and Europe’s politicians dump ACTA, there is still a chance the treaty could survive. In a speech to parliament last month, Trade Commissioner De Gucht said whatever the result of the vote, he intends to wait for the Court of Justice ruling on ACTA. Should it be judged legal under current European law, de Gucht said he will resubmit the treaty to parliament.
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