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.
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.
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.