BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Parliament is scheduled to hold a critical vote Wednesday on the ACTA anti-piracy treaty — a pact that has sparked street protests and a petition drive from people in Europe who fear it would limit internet freedom.
A "no" vote in the Parliament would kill the treaty as far as the European Union is concerned.
Supporters say that ACTA — the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement — is needed to standardize international laws that protect the rights of those who produce music, movies, pharmaceuticals, fashion goods and other products that often fall victim to piracy and intellectual property theft. Opponents fear it would lead to censorship and a loss of privacy on the Internet.
The treaty was unanimously approved by the 27 EU heads of government in December. But EU efforts to ratify it have run into deep trouble. For the EU to become a party to the treaty, all 27 member countries would have to formally approve it.
That began to look increasingly unlikely — so much so that in February the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, suspended ratification efforts and instead asked the EU's highest court to render an opinion on whether the treaty would abridge any fundamental European rights. The Commission's hope is that an opinion of the court will convinced doubters that ACTA does not limit freedom, and in that atmosphere ratification efforts could then resume.
"This debate must be based upon facts and not upon the misinformation or rumor that has dominated social media sites and blogs," EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said then.
But EU participation in the treaty could be killed before that legal opinion is ever issued.
If the Parliament votes no on Wednesday, "It means this is the end of ACTA for the European Union, that's for sure," EU Parliament Spokesman Jaume Duch said.
Such an outcome would be a humiliation for the EU, which was one of the prime movers in the multi-year effort to negotiate the treaty. EU officials have maintained that ACTA would change nothing in European law, but would be simply an instance of the EU leading by example and exporting its strong copyright protection laws to other countries where safeguards are weaker.
The EU and 22 EU member states signed ACTA on Jan. 26, 2012 in Tokyo. The U.S. has also signed the agreement. Other signatories include Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea.
Don Melvin can be reached at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin
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