Is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) compatible with the treaties governing the European Union, in particular the Charter of Fundamental Rights? That is the question before the Union’s highest court. John Clancy, the spokesperson for Trade Commissioner Karel De Guch, issued a press release dated May 11 confirming that the European Commission has referred the issue of ACTA’s legality to the European Court of Justice.
In the face of strong opposition to the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the European Commission has asked the European Union’s high court to decide whether the measure passes constitutional muster. According to the Commission’s ACTA site the agreement makes no change to EU law and “does not favor industry over human rights.” Nevertheless, the key question before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is whether ACTA would infringe basic human rights such as freedom of expression.
Whatever the ECJ’s decision, final power over the treaty lies with the legislature, which is more than can be said here in the US (see below). If ACTA does not win a majority of the votes in the European Parliament, the EU will not be able to ratify the agreement.
Intellectual property (IP) serves as a mainstay of the European economy, says the EU Commission, and protecting IP means protecting jobs for European workers. In contrast, censorship and online repression are job killers, say digital-rights proponents. So will ACTA promote creative expression or stifle it?
The Commission’s fact-sheet claims that global businesses are victims of IP theft by “organized criminal organizations” (sic), that the amount of counterfeit goods entering the EU tripled between 2005 and 2010, and that ACTA will protect European jobs. But ACTA’s goal, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “is to create a new standard of intellectual property enforcement above the current internationally-agreed standards… and increased international cooperation including sharing of information between signatory countries’ law enforcement agencies.”
Critics say that powerful media corporations want a new tool for stopping file-sharing; ACTA will turn Internet service providers (ISPs) into the industry’s police force and judiciary, they allege. For a short video by ACTA opponents, La Quadrature du Net, click here.
Meanwhile, leading the anti-ACTA effort in the United States Senate, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Or) is trying to claw back the treaty-making power that Congress arguably ceded to the President when it enacted the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Propery (PRO-IP) Act in 2008. If Wyden’s amendment to the jobs bill survives, Congress will have an opportunity to vote on ACTA. Otherwise, the treaty acquires the force of law without having to go before the Senate for ratification.
Whatever the merits of ACTA, European citizens have the chance to weigh in on the issue because the ultimate decision over the treaty rests with their legislators. In the United States, that is not the case. If you would like to contact your Senators about ACTA and the broader question of the Senate’s ratifying authority, click here.