EU Parliament shoots down controversial copyright treaty; EU Commission ignores them

Meet CETA, the new ACTA

Acta, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, is a proposed international agreement which aims to create cross-national standards on what constitutions copyright infringement. This fantastic Wired primer goes into greater detail about it, but the short version is that it has been seen as Europe's answer to SOPA, the American law which sparked the wave of website blackouts in protest earlier this year.

The treaty was negotiated behind closed doors, and required signatories to criminalise civil copyright infringement, all while implying false equivalencies between piracy and counterfeiting. As with SOPA, it drew large – although more low key – protests, which appeared to have done the trick. Last Wednesday, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly against Acta, 478 to 39.

Olivia Solon wrote:

In a statement, the EU recognised the "unprecedented direct lobbying by thousands of EU citizens who called on it to reject Acta, in street demonstrations, emails to MEPs and calls to their offices". It also acknowledged a petition that had been signed by 2.8 million citizens urging them to reject Acta.

But just because the parliament rejected Acta, doesn't mean the battle's won. The Canada-EU trade agreement, a pending agreement between the two nations, contains word-for-word the same clauses which made Acta so concerning.

The pressure group La Quadrature du Net writes that :

CETA literally contains the worst of ACTA, in particular: general obligations on enforcement, damages, injunctions, DRM circumvention, and border measure rules. The worst and most damaging parts for our freedoms online, criminal sanctions and intermediary liability, are word for word the same in ACTA and CETA.

In all coherence with last week's vote, the European Commission must drop CETA negotiations (or expurgate it from all the aforementioned, copyright-related provisions), or else be humiliated once again when the European parliament get to vote on CETA.

Canadian journalist Michael Geist breaks down the similiarities. For example, this is a passage from CETA; the bolded lines are straight from ACTA:

Each Party shall provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures that are used by authors, performers of performances fixed in phonograms, or producers of phonograms in connection with the exercise of their rights in, and that restrict acts in respect of, their works, performances fixed in phonograms, and phonograms, which are not authorized by the authors, the performers of performances fixed in phonograms or the producers of phonograms concerned or permitted by law.

Other passages are even worse, reproduced verbatim.

Wired's Liat Clarke sums up the problem:

The 4 July vote saw the EU's trade committees publicly acknowledge the potentially dangerous vagaries in the agreement relating to civil liberties. But it seems to be just these vagaries that have reappeared in Ceta, including mention of "cooperative efforts" that could lead to ISPs being forced to take down content, compulsory disclosure of information on any user accused of copyright infringement and the incredibly ambiguous concept of weighing penalties on the accused of "any legitimate measure of value that may be submitted by the right holder, including lost profits".

Criminal liability for "aiding and abetting" infringement also crops up again, and is one of the key clauses that initially troubled EU trade committees since it suggests data centres and ISPs might be open to penalties ranging from prison time to extortionate fines. Ceta has already gained negative press due to clauses referring to EU pharmaceutical patent fees that could dramatically increase Canada's healthcare costs. Attention being drawn to these new obstacles could potentially scupper the agreement entirely.

Generally speaking, if a democratic body votes something down, it's not the prerogative of an undemocratic one to resurrect it. Clearly at the EU, things work differently.

Members of the European Parliament hold placards reading 'Hello democracy goodbye ACTA' as they take part in a vote on ACTA. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.