European Parliamentarians are set to debate whether to formally oppose an anticounterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA) being negotiated in secret by the European Commission with trading partners including the US, Canada and Japan. However, civil liberties campaigners think the resolution is too weak and won't have the desired effect.
The resolution mainly attacks the lack of transparency in the ACTA negotiations. It calls on the Commission to grant both the Parliament and the public free access to the draft ACTA texts, and warns that failure to do so would result in legal action against the Commission to the European Court of Justice.
The resolution also makes reference to some of the substance of the draft treaty, which was leaked to the press in February, but without an official copy of the draft text, they haven't been able to react to its specific wording.
According to the leaks, the US has proposed a chapter of the treaty that focuses largely on copyright enforcement on the Internet. It proposes forcing Internet service providers (ISPs) to take "effective measures" to ensure that their subscribers do not illegally upload or download copyright-protected content such as music or movies. It also suggests that one way to do this would be for countries that sign up to the treaty to adopt policies such as the controversial "three strikes" rule, recently adopted in France, that requires ISPs to sever an illegal filesharing subscriber's Internet connection after two warnings.
"It is a very strong resolution that leaves no room for doubt that the European Parliament demands that the Council and the Commission put all papers on the table immediately," said Christian Engstrom, a Swedish MEP from the recently created Pirate Party, which was set up to fight what it describes as the gradual erosion of EU citizens' civil liberties.
The resolution has been proposed by four MEPs from the mainstream political parties as well as by Engstrom. They are center-right Czech Christian Democrat Zuzana Roithová, French socialist Françoise Castex, German liberal Alexander Alvaro and Greek socialist Stavros Lambrinidis.
The text is solid as far as addressing the issue of lack of transparency in the ACTA negotiations, but it fails to pin the Commission down on the specific wording of the draft text, including the call for ISPs to take measures against illegal filesharers, said Joe McNamee, an advocacy coordinator with the campaign group European Digital Rights.
"Through no fault of their own the Parliament's resolution misses the point, as far as the substance of the problem is concerned," he said.
The draft text does not propose mandatory three strikes legislation in countries that sign up to the treaty. "Under the current wording, the ACTA will coerce ISPs into applying a three strikes policy on their subscribers but it won't oblige them to do so. There is a subtle difference," McNamee added.
The resolution under discussion misses this subtlety, he said. Instead the resolution should be calling for the removal of all references to "effective measures," as well as the mention of three strikes as an example of possible policies that countries could adopt.
If the Parliament is successful in opening up the ACTA negotiations to public scrutiny, then it will be easier to address the controversial issues concerning copyright protection on the Internet, McNamee said.
The participating countries in the ACTA talks are the US, the EU, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
Their next face-to-face meeting will take place in New Zealand in April. The 11 negotiating parties aim to conclude the treaty by the end of this year.