Council of Ministers backs EU signing of ACTA

Out-Law News | 20 Dec 2011 | 3:16 pm | 2 min. read

EU ministers have given their backing to a controversial international intellectual property (IP) rights treaty paving the way for representatives of the trading bloc to sign the agreement.

In a Council of Ministers meeting held last week ministers voted to allow the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) to be signed on behalf of EU member countries. The EU had helped finalise the terms of ACTA last year.

"The Council adopted a decision authorising the signing of an anti-counterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA) with Australia, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States," a Council of Ministers statement said.

"ACTA is aimed at establishing an international framework to improve the enforcement of intellectual property right laws and create improved international standards for actions against large-scale infringements of intellectual property. Negotiations were concluded in November 2010," it said.

In October the US, Japan, Australia, Canada, Republic of Korea, Morocco, New Zealand and Singapore "committed" to ACTA at a signing ceremony in Japan. A spokesperson for the European Commission told Out-Law.com prior to the ceremony, which EU representatives attended, that the EU was not ready to sign the treaty at that time because it had "not yet completed its internal procedures authorising the signature".

The spokesperson said that the EU had to wait for the Council of Ministers to adopt a decision authorising an EU representative to sign ACTA. "Since this required the translation of the treaty in all the EU languages, such decision has not yet been adopted. It may still require a couple of months for the EU to be able to sign ACTA. After the signature, the European Parliament will have to vote its consent of ACTA," the Commission's spokesperson said at the time.

The EU has until 1 May 2013 to sign the agreement, the Japanese Government has previously said.

ACTA has been controversial because of secrecy surrounding its negotiation; because it operates outside of existing trade bodies the World Trade Organisation and World Intellectual Property Organisation, and because earlier drafts reportedly sought to impose measures which could interfere with individuals' rights.

The ACTA document (25-page / 231KB PDF), which has been published by the European Commission, encouraged customs officers to help identify IP right violators and share the details with other countries. It also set out that signatories of the agreement must make sure rights holders have access to "civil judicial procedures" in order to enforce their IP rights and that "judicial authorities" have the power to issue injunctions that prohibit infringers from further violation of rights.

In addition, signatories "shall provide for criminal procedures and penalties to be applied at least in cases of wilful trademark counterfeiting or copyright or related rights piracy on a commercial scale," ACTA said.

Criminal procedures and penalties should also be available "in cases of wilful importation and domestic use, in the course of trade and on a commercial scale, of labels or packaging," it said.

The negotiators of ACTA said that the treaty would help the "fight" against infringers of intellectual property rights.