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.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.