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The European Parliament has voted yesterday to reject the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

The proposed agreement sought to curb piracy, but internet campaigners said it posed a threat to online freedoms.

The rejection vote followed a failed attempt to postpone the decision because of ongoing investigations into ACTA by the European Court of Justice.

Euro MP David Martin said: “It’s time to give [ACTA] its last rites.”

Twenty-two EU member states had signed the ACTA treaty – but it had not been formally ratified.

Outside the EU, the treaty also had the support of the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea.

The European Parliament has voted yesterday to reject the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)

The European Parliament has voted yesterday to reject the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)

However, following significant protests, several countries chose not to back it.

Wednesday’s vote is seen by most observers as the final blow to the treaty in its current form. It means no member states will be able to join the agreement.

A total of 478 MEPs voted against the deal, with 39 in favor. There were 165 abstentions.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said work on tackling piracy would continue.

“Today’s rejection does not change the fact that the European Commission has committed itself to seeking answers to the questions raised by the European public,” he said.

“The European Commission will continue to seek the legal opinion of the European Court of Justice on whether this agreement harms any of the fundamental rights of European citizens – including freedom of speech.

“European citizens have raised these concerns and now they have the right to receive answers. We must respect that right.”

As the decision was made, some of those in attendance held banners reading: “Hello democracy, goodbye ACTA.”

However, key players in the creative industries expressed frustration at the decision.

“ACTA is an important tool for promoting European jobs and intellectual property,” said Anne Bergman-Tahon, director of the Federation of European Publishers.

“Unfortunately the treaty got off on the wrong foot in the parliament, and the real and significant merits of the treaty did not prevail.”

Alan Drewsen, executive director of the International Trademark Association, warned that Europe could now be left behind when it comes to protecting intellectual property.

“Europe could have seized the chance to support an important treaty that improved intellectual property standards internationally,” he said.

“We expect that ACTA will move ahead without the EU, which is a significant loss for the 27 member states.”

What is ACTA?

• The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is an international treaty aiming to standardise copyright protection measures.

• It seeks to curb trade of counterfeit physical goods, including copyrighted material online.

• Deterrents include possible imprisonment and fines.

• Critics argue that it will stifle freedom of expression on the internet, and it has been likened to the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

• ACTA had been signed by 22 EU members but has now been rejected by the European Parliament.

 

The EU’s highest court has been asked to rule on the legality of ACTA, the controversial anti-piracy agreement.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has been criticized by rights campaigners who argue it could stifle free expression on the internet.

European Union trade head Karel De Gucht said the court will be asked to clarify whether the treaty complied with “the EU’s fundamental rights and freedoms”.

The agreement has so far been signed by 22 EU member states.

The European Commission said it “decided today to ask the European Court of Justice for a legal opinion to clarify that the ACTA agreement and its implementation must be fully compatible with freedom of expression and freedom of the internet”.

Several key countries, including Germany and Denmark, have backed away from the treaty amid protests in several European cities.

The EU's highest court has been asked to rule on the legality of ACTA

The EU's highest court has been asked to rule on the legality of ACTA

ACTA is set to be debated by the European Parliament in June.

While countries can individually ratify the terms of the agreement, EU backing is considered vital if the proposal’s aim of implementing consistent standards for copyright enforcement measures is met.

As well as the 22 European backers, the agreement has been signed by the United States, Japan and Canada.

Karel De Gucht told a news conference on Wednesday: “Let me be very clear: I share people’s concern for these fundamental freedoms… especially over the freedom of the internet.

“This debate must be based upon facts, and not upon the misinformation and rumour that has dominated social media sites and blogs in recent weeks.”

However, Karel de Gucht went on to say that the agreement’s purpose was to protect the creative economy.

“[ACTA] aims to raise global standards for intellectual property rights,” he said, adding that the treaty “will help protect jobs currently lost because counterfeited, pirated goods worth 200bn euros are currently floating around”.

ACTA’s backers face strong opposition within the EU. Viviane Reding, the commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, took to Twitter to outline her worries on the treaty.

“For me, blocking the Internet is never an option,” she wrote in a statement.

“We need to find new, more modern and more effective ways in Europe to protect artistic creations that take account of technological developments and the freedoms of the internet.”

What is ACTA?

• The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is an international treaty aiming to standardize copyright protection measures.

• It seeks to curb trade of counterfeited physical goods, including copyrighted material online.

• Preventative measures include possible imprisonment and fines.

• Critics argue that it will stifle freedom of expression on the internet, and it has been likened to the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

• ACTA has been signed by 22 EU members, but is yet to be ratified by the European Parliament.

 

ACTA protest

Dear friends,

Politicians across Europe are starting to withdraw their support from the dangerous ACTA treaty. This weekend’s mass protest is our moment to bury ACTA for good. Click to join the day of action, in person or virtually — let’s win this!

Take action now

In 24 hours, people across the planet are joining a global street protest to bury ACTA for good. 

This week our massive 2 million ACTA petition caused shockwaves in Brussels, and we’ve just learned that Germany has put ACTA on ice and other governments are close to following suit. If Europe says no to ACTA, it dies!  We’re at a tipping point — If enough of us join the protest tomorrow, we can secure our online freedom and end the threat of ACTA’s censorship nightmare. 

Let’s turn out in thousands to protest or, if we can’t be there in person (most of the protests are in Europe), send messages of solidarity to our fellow citizens who are marching. Click here to use our map tool to find an event near you, or leave a solidarity message for marchers: 

http://www.avaaz.org/en/acta_day_of_action_hub/?vl

Our massive ACTA petition was personally delivered to leading EU politicians in Brussels this week as it grew to 2.2 million signers and beyond. The European Parliament is choosing their new point person on the treaty right now. Let’s make sure that person realises that ACTA is too hot to handle. 

Four Eastern European governments and now Germany have just said they’ll stall their decision on the treaty. Now, if hundreds of thousands of people attend thousands of rallies all across Europe tomorrow, we can ensure that all politicians across the 27 EU countries are put on notice that people don’t want ACTA and will continue to take action until the treaty is buried. 

Those of us in Europe can join the protests. And we all can send messages of solidarity to encourage the people there and use social media to pile the pressure on key parliamentarian. Click here to check out the action centre, and tell everyone.

http://www.avaaz.org/en/acta_day_of_action_hub/?vl

Again and again, we’ve shown how people power can work. When our fundamental freedoms are at stake, and we act together, we can forge an unstoppable force that makes politicians turn away from the corporate lobbies, and work in the interests of all of us. Let’s do it again.

With hope and determination,

Alex, Alice, Pascal, Emma, Ricken, Maria Paz, Luis and the rest of the Avaaz team

More information:

Acta activates mass opposition (Euractiv)
http://www.euractiv.com/infosociety/acta-activates-european-civil-society-news-510533

Acta: Europe braced for protests over anti-piracy treaty (BBC) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16906086

Latest pact on internet piracy set to be derailed (Financial Times) http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/a52f57ec-533d-11e1-aafd-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1lzG5htN5

Czech Republic, Slovakia freeze anti-piracy pact (AFP) http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gguBSrXtQKnr0famyhxMlNK2plDQ?docId=CNG.956cc047c755305c8ad4580183554bcc.71

ACTA vs. SOPA: Five Reasons ACTA is a Scarier Threat to Internet Freedom
http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/286925/20120124/acta-sopa-reasons-scarier-threat-internet-freedom.htm?cid=2

Act on Acta now if you care about democracy and free speech (The Guardian)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/03/act-acta-democracy-free-speech

The secret treaty: Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and Its Impact on Access to Medicines
http://www.msfaccess.org/content/secret-treaty-anti-counterfeiting-trade-agreement-acta-and-its-impact-access-medicines

Democrat Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate Majority Leader, announced he will postpone a vote on a contested anti-online piracy bill.

This decision follows protests by online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, and thousands of other websites, which went “dark” in protest for 24 hours earlier this week.

“In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT IP Act,” Harry Reid said in a statement.

The Senate was due to hold a procedural vote on the bill on Tuesday.

Two versions of anti-piracy legislation are pending in Congress: the Protect IP Act (PIPA) before the Senate and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), due to be voted on by the House of Representatives.

In the wake of Wednesday’s protest, and amid a barrage of emails and phone calls from web users to their local congressmen, some lawmakers have shown signs of retreating from the bill.

Of about 40 co-sponsors for the PIPA bill, a handful withdrew their support on Wednesday, as thousands of websites participated in a co-ordinate online protest.

More than seven million people signed a petition on Google saying that passage of the legislation would result in censoring the web and impose a regulatory burden on businesses.

It is not clear whether the SOPA bill will also be stalled.

After yesterday “blackout” protests on thousands of internet sites, eight US lawmakers have announced they have withdrawn their support for anti-piracy laws.

Two of the bill’s co-sponsors, Marco Rubio from Florida and Roy Blunt from Missouri, are among those backing away.

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia and blog service WordPress are among the highest profile sites to block their content.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has branded the protests as “irresponsible” and a “stunt”.

The MPAA, Hollywood’s primary advocate in Washington and a key supporter of the legislation, is led by former Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.

Both bills focus on responding to online piracy, specifically illegal copies of films and other media.

The bills would also outlaw sites from containing information about how to access blocked sites.

With Marco Rubio and Roy Blunt withdrawing their support, the Senate bill – Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) – that had looked likely to pass, now appears to be in trouble.

Marco Rubio is a rising star in the Republican Party, and is often suggested as a viable vice-presidential choice for this year’s Republican presidential nominee.

Republicans and Democrats were among the lawmakers rowing back on Wednesday.

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia and blog service WordPress are among the highest profile sites to block their content as a protest against anti-piracy laws in US

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia and blog service WordPress are among the highest profile sites to block their content as a protest against anti-piracy laws in US

The list of senators no longer backing PIPA includes Marco Rubio and Roy Blunt, and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, all Republicans, as well as Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland.

In the House of Representatives, Republicans Ben Quayle of Arizona, Lee Terry of Nebraska and Dennis Ross of Florida said they were no longer supporting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), joining Pennsylvania Democrat Tim Holden.

Dennis Ross tweeted that he was no longer supporting SOPA, because as “a true free marketer, I want IP protected correctly”.

In a Facebook posting, Marco Rubio said he and fellow Senators “heard legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on access to the internet”.

Senator Orrin Hatch called PIPA “not ready for prime-time” and said he would remove himself from the bill’s list of sponsors.

The US news website Politico estimated that 7,000 sites were involved by early Wednesday morning.

Google did not shut down its main search but is showing solidarity by placing a black box over its logo when US-based users visit its site.

Online marketplace Craigslist asks site visitors to contact their representatives in Congress before moving on to the main site.

Visitors to Wikipedia’s English-language site were greeted by a dark page with white text which said: “Imagine a world without free knowledge… The US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.”

If users tried to access its other pages via search sites, the text briefly flashed up before being replaced by the protest page. However, people were sharing workarounds to disable the redirect.

When the protest ended at 05:00 GMT on Thursday, Wikipedia carried the message: “Thank you for protecting Wikipedia”.

WordPress’s homepage displayed a video which claimed that SOPA “breaks the internet” and asked users to add their name to a petition asking Congress to stop the bill.

“The authors of the legislation don’t seem to really understand how the internet works,” said Matt Mullenweg, the site’s co-founder.

Other net firms that have criticized the legislation decided not to take part in the blackout.

Twitter’s founder, Dick Costolo, tweeted that it would be “foolish” to take the service offline.

The moves were described as an “abuse of power” by one of the highest-profile supporters of the anti-piracy bills.

“It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information,” Senator Chris Dodd said in a statement, calling the actions taken by the high-profile websites “yet another gimmick”.

In addition to the MPAA’s support for the legislation, the US Chamber of Commerce said claims against the legislation had been overstated

“[The sponsors] announced they would roll back the provisions of these bills designed to block foreign criminal websites, striking a major conciliatory note with those who raised legitimate concerns,” said Steve Tepp, chief intellectual property counsel at the chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Center.

“What remains are two pieces of legislation that are narrowly tailored and commercially reasonable for taking an effective swipe at the business models of rogue sites.”

The proposed legislation would allow the Department of Justice and content owners to seek court orders against any site accused of “enabling or facilitating” piracy.

SOPA also calls for search engines to remove infringing sites from their results. PIPA does not include this provision.

Google posted a blog on the subject claiming that the bills would not stop piracy.

“There are better ways to address piracy than to ask US companies to censor the internet. The foreign rogue sites are in it for the money, and we believe the best way to shut them down is to cut off their sources of funding.”

The events coincided with news that the US House of Representatives plans to resume work on SOPA next month. The Senate is expected to start voting on 24 January on how to proceed on PIPA.

Even if Congress approves the bills, President Barack Obama may decide to veto them.

The White House issued a statement at the weekend saying that “we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet”.

Wikipedia announced that will black out its website on Wednesday to protest against anti-piracy legislation under consideration in Congress.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced on Twitter that the popular community-based online encyclopedia would shut down its English versions for a full 24 hours.

A link to the formal announcement confirmed the decision after 1,800 Wikipedians discussed what action to take against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECTIP (PIPA).

SOPA and the Protect Intellectual Property Act pending in Congress are designed to crack down on sales of pirated U.S. products overseas.

Supporters say the legislation is needed to protect intellectual property and jobs. Critics say the legislation is too broad and could hurt the technology industry and infringe on free-speech rights.

Jimmy Wales said in a statement: “Today Wikipedians from around the world have spoken about their opposition to this destructive legislation.

“This is an extraordinary action for our community to take – and while we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world.”

According to a press release, Wikipedia users have discussed for more than a month whether it should react to the legislation and, in the past few days, tried to decide how.

The foundation behind the site, Wikimedia, said it collected input from users over a period of 72 hours before making its final decision on Monday evening based on that feedback.

“This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia, which illustrates the level of concern that Wikipedians feel about this proposed legislation,” a statement on the Wikimedia Foundation website reads.

“The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills. Of the proposals considered by Wikipedians, those that would result in a <<blackout>> of the English Wikipedia, in concert with similar blackouts on other websites opposed to SOPA and PIPA, received the strongest support.”

Wikipedia announced that will black out its website on Wednesday to protest against anti-piracy legislation under consideration in Congress

Wikipedia announced that will black out its website on Wednesday to protest against anti-piracy legislation under consideration in Congress

A large-scale blackout is expected from midnight Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday until midnight on Wednesday.

“We are looking at a powerful protest,” said Jay Walsh, spokesman for the foundation.

Tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others have also questioned the legislation and said it poses a serious risk to the industry. Several online communities such as Reddit, Boing Boing and others have announced plans to go blackout in protest.

Wikipedia is considering several different forms of response, from a banner across the top of the page to a blackout in certain areas, up to a worldwide shutdown, said Jay Walsh.

If Wikipedia opts for a blackout, it would be the largest and most well-known website to do so.

“It’s not a muscle that is normally flexed,” added Jay Walsh.

As the Washington Post reports, Jimmy Wales expects an estimated 25million daily visitors to be affected by a Wikipedia blackout.

The Obama administration has also raised concerns about the legislation and said over the weekend that it will work with Congress on legislation to help battle piracy and counterfeiting while defending free expression, privacy, security and innovation in the Internet.

THE BACKGROUND BEHIND SOPA & PIPA

The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in Congress – are designed to crack down on sales of pirated U.S. products overseas – has pit internet giants, consumer groups and freedom of speech advocates against film studios and record labels.

The House bill (SOPA) would allow a private party to go straight to a website’s advertising and payment providers and request they sever ties.

Supporters include the film and music industry, which often sees its products sold illegally. They say the legislation is needed to protect intellectual property and jobs.

Critics say the legislation could hurt the technology industry and infringe on free-speech rights. Among their concerns are provisions that would weaken cyber-security for companies and hinder domain access rights.

The most controversial provision is in the House bill, which would have enabled federal authorities to “blacklist” sites that are alleged to distribute pirated content. That would essentially cut off portions of the Internet to all U.S. users. But congressional leaders appear to be backing off this provision.