Discredited ACTA is dead in the water - Lib Dems
by Fiona Hall
Protecting intellectual property rights is important but ACTA lacked safeguards for internet users and could not work without the participation of emerging economies, writes Liberal Democrat MEP
Liberal Democrat MEPs have decided to vote against the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in the European Parliament after a careful consideration of all the relevant facts. The 85 members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats political group form the necessary swing majority for parliament to reject the ratification of this plurilateral treaty, originally designed to establish international standards for intellectual property rights.
Lib Dems are strong supporters of the protection of these rights. The fight against counterfeiting is important to protect our knowledge-based economies at the same time as safeguarding consumers - in particular when it comes to dangerous counterfeit medicines, electronics and toys. However, ACTA has also come under severe criticism from concerned citizens from across Europe because of potential infringements on individual fundamental rights and freedoms, in particular with regard to the use of the internet. As champions of civil liberties, Lib Dems think it is of utmost importance to strike the right balance between protecting property rights and upholding these fundamental freedoms.
The in-depth debate on ACTA has demonstrated that it falls short on both fronts. On the one hand, its ability to combat global counterfeiting has been completely discredited due to the fact that most emerging economies, such as China - which are major sources of counterfeit products - have not signed up to the agreement. By trying to bundle up very different types of rights enforcements into one agreement, ACTA also potentially weakens the protection of each as there is no one size fits all solution. A counterfeit handbag is very different from a pirated film or a patent-infringing medicine.
On the other hand, ACTA poses serious risks to the fundamental rights of individuals through its provisions on digital goods and obligations on internet service providers. The European Data Protection Supervisor has expressed severe concerns about ACTA saying that it would allow "indiscriminate or widespread monitoring" of internet users while not providing sufficient safeguards. This is a disproportionate infringement of civil liberties that must not be allowed to go ahead.
Without the support of ALDE in parliament, ACTA is dead in the water. But the wider discussion on intellectual property rights protection in the age of the internet is far from over. We must protect our knowledge-based economies and prohibit trade of potentially harmful and counterfeit products. But all discussions must be held in a completely transparent manner. The secrecy that surrounded the ACTA negotiations was wrong and counterproductive. The way forward would be for the European Commission to enter into sectoral negotiations and work towards separate agreements focusing on a specific type of rights infringements. These negotiations should be conducted in a completely transparent way that includes all stakeholders.
Crucially, we need to get emerging economies to the negotiating table and try to achieve new agreements if possible within the multilateral framework of the World Trade Organisation and the World Intellectual Property Organisation. In the meantime, the European Union must continue to complete the Digital Single Market to become a global leader in cutting edge internet innovation and creativity as well as net neutrality.
Fiona Hall MEP leads the United Kingdom's Liberal Democrat delegation in the European Parliament