ACTA, A CONTREVERSIAL ANTI COUNTERFEITING TREATY

Negotiations on ACTA – Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – were launched in 2007 and were initiated by Japan and the United States. ACTA sets out an international legal framework to fight counterfeiting in the broadest sense, from drugs and other goods to illegal downloading from the Internet.

However, it is highly controversial and was finally rejected by the European Parliament on July 4, 2012. It does remain valid outside of the European Union and will apply once six signatory states have ratified it. Nevertheless, even outside the European Union, it is doubtful whether ACTA will ever come into force.

1.  Background

Counterfeiting poses a growing threat to the sustainable development of the global economy. According to some estimates, it may amount to 5 to 10% of world trade (1). Because of it, legitimate companies lose billions of euros and thousands of jobs each year.

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2.  Inception of ACTA

Official negotiations on ACTA were launched in June 2008, based on a concept introduced by Japan during the preparation of the 2006 G8 and subsequently endorsed by the United States.

There were 11 negotiation rounds. 39 countries (3), representing over 50% of global trade, worked on that project for 5 years. However, China and India, which are the main source of counterfeited goods, did not take part in the talks. On May 27, 2011, the European Commission published the final version of the treaty.

ACTA was signed on October 1, 2011 by 8 countries: Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States. On January 26, 2012 in Tokyo, the European Commission and 22 of the European Union’s 27 member states also signed the agreement.

3.  Main provisions

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement comprises 6 chapters and 45 articles, setting out a new legal framework for the enforcement of intellectual property rights:

  • Chapter I:   Initial provisions and general definitions, articles 1-5
  • Chapter II: Legal framework for the enforcement of intellectual property rights, articles 6-27
  • Chapter III:       Enforcement practices, chapters 28-32
  • Chapter IV: International cooperation, articles 33-35
  • Chapter V: Institutional arrangements, articles 36-38
  • Chapter VI: Final provisions, articles 39-45
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4. An intense mobilization against ACTA

Rarely had a trade agreement caused such a strong mobilization among opponents. General discontent has been fueled both by the method for elaborating the treaty and by its content, which many consider too « vague » and « a danger » for digital freedoms, access to drugs, and the neutrality of the Internet. Since early 2012, discontent has been on the increase, both in the civil society and within major European bodies.

  • On the very day that the European Commission officially signed the agreement in Tokyo, the European Parliament rapporteur on ACTA resigned, calling the whole process a « masquerade. »
  • In late January 2012, more than 1.25 million people signed a petition against ACTA, and on February 11, millions of opponents to ACTA took part in an international protest day.
  • In February 2012, the European Commission asked the European Court of Justice to check whether the agreement violates fundamental rights.
  • In May and June, 5 standing committees of the European Parliament (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Industry, Legal Affairs, Development, and International Trade) came out against the treaty.

After months of intense debate and protests, and after a series of negative votes in committees, the European Union finally voted down the treaty with a clear majority on July 4, 2012. However, the European Parliament’s veto does not officially bury ACTA, since signatory countries – the United Stats, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Morocco, and Mexico – still have the possibility to ratify it.

5.  Causes of the controversy, in the view of opponents to ACTA

As early as May 2008, when Wikileaks divulged a draft version of the treaty, ACTA sparked massive protests, both from civil society and within EU bodies. There are many sticking points regarding the treaty and the way i twas established :

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6. Further information

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(1) More information in French

(2) Read the full text of ACTA

(3) 39 countries took part in the establishment of ACTA: Australia, Canada, South Korea, the United States, Japan, Morocco, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and the EU’s 27 member states.