Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Germany steps back from ACTA-signing process

Out-Law News | 13 Feb 2012 | 12:05 pm | 2 min. read

Germany will wait to see whether the European Parliament approves a controversial international agreement on the enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights before deciding whether to sign it itself, according to reports.

News agency Associated Press has reported that the German Justice Ministry does not believe the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is needed, according to a BBC report. Germany's Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, has decided to postpone the signing of ACTA to allow "the European Parliament to discuss all the necessary questions" and "decide" its legitimacy, according to a report by news website ZDNet.

ACTA has been criticised over the secrecy in which it was negotiated and the impact the text could have on internet freedoms. At the weekend thousands of people took to the streets of European cities, including London and Edinburgh, to protest against the treaty, according to a report by the BBC.

In January 22 EU countries, including the UK, added their signatures to ACTA at a ceremony in Tokyo. At the time Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Germany and the other four EU countries that had not signed the treaty were expected to follow suit "on the completion of respective domestic procedures".

However, since then ACTA has suffered several setbacks amidst a growing public and political outcry at the text. Despite signing the treaty Poland, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Slovakia have all announced that they will not ratify ACTA until the text has been properly assessed and debated.

The European Parliament's rapporteur on ACTA also recently resigned saying that he wished to "denounce" the process around the signing of the agreement as bearing "no association of civil society" and lacking transparency. He said he no longer wished to participate in a "charade" and that the public should be altered to the "unacceptable situation". Slovenia's ambassador to Japan has also apologised for her "carelessness" in signing ACTA and said the agreement "limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history, and thus limits particularly the future of our children".

ACTA requires member countries to have in place "enforcement procedures" under national laws that allow for "effective" action to be taken against infringers that is both "expeditious" and a suitable "deterrent to further infringements".

Member countries of ACTA must ensure that IP that exists in "the digital environment" can also be enforced through civil and criminal legal procedures. Enforcement must be done "in a manner that avoids the creation of barriers to legitimate activity, including electronic commerce, and ... preserves fundamental principles such as freedom of expression, fair process, and privacy".

ACTA also includes further requirements signatories must adopt relating to the systems they operate at customs and border control to combat infringement as well as statutory provisions that give courts certain powers to act against offenders in both criminal and civil proceedings.

The "effective enforcement" of IP rights is "critical to sustaining economic growth across all industries and globally," the ACTA text states.

Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the US signed ACTA in October last year.

The European Parliament must approve ACTA before the text can become binding on EU signatories, but the process also requires the individual Governments of those nations to ratify the text, according to ZDNet.

ACTA will be scrutinised primarily by the European Parliament's International Trade Committee (ITC) before the ITC will recommend to MEPs whether to accept or reject the text. A final vote by MEPs is expected by June.

Vital Moreira, chair of the ITC, earlier this month said ACTA was aimed at "reinforcing" the enforcement of IP rights under existing laws and would not alter way IP rights themselves were protected.

The UK's Intellectual Property Office (IPO) told Out-Law.com in January that ACTA was "important" as it would "set an international standard for tackling large-scale infringements of IP rights, through the creation of common enforcement standards and more effective international cooperation". It claimed ACTA "aims to improve the enforcement of existing IP rights laws, not create new ones".

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