European Parliament rejects Acta

The European Parliament has rejected the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta)

The European Parliament has rejected the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), blocking its route to becoming law in European Union member states.

The vote is the first time the body has exercised its Lisbon Treaty power to reject an international trade agreement.

Acta was aimed at setting an international standard for tackling large-scale infringements of intellectual property (IP) rights.

Critics of Acta argued that it would lead to censorship of the internet, while supporters insisted the agreement will not alter existing laws.

Members of European Parliament (MEPs) voted against the treaty by 478 to 39, with 165 abstentions, far exceeding predictions of a 2:1 vote, with more than 12 times more votes against than for.

"I am very pleased that Parliament has followed my recommendation to reject Acta," said David Martin, UK MEP and lead member of the key parliamentary International Trade Committee.

Martin reiterated his concerns that the treaty is too vague, open to misinterpretation and could therefore jeopardise citizens' liberties. However, he also emphasised the need to find alternative ways to protect intellectual property in the EU.

Before the vote, key Acta advocate, Swedish MEP Christofer Fjellner, asked for a vote until the European Court of Justice has ruled on whether Acta is compatible with the EU treaties.

However, a majority of MEPs rejected the request by Fjellner, who is a also a member of the parliamentary International Trade Committee and its Committee on Budgetary Control. A substantial minority responded by abstaining in the vote.

The European Parliament was the target of unprecedented direct lobbying by thousands of EU citizens calling for Acta to be rejected in street demonstrations, e-mails to MEPs, calls to their offices, and a petition signed by 2.8 million citizens.

Acta was negotiated by the EU and its member states, the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland to improve the enforcement of anti-counterfeiting law internationally.

Ahead of the vote, 22 European member states signed the treaty, including the UK, with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) strongly backing the measures.

The final vote by the European Parliament means that neither the EU nor its individual member states can join the agreement.

But there is still a chance the treaty could survive, according to reports. In a speech to parliament last month, European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said whatever the result of the vote, he intends to wait for the Court of Justice ruling on Acta.

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