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Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) Rejected by European Union

The European Parliament on Wednesday, July 4, 2012, voted overwhelmingly against a controversial trade agreement designed to combat online piracy.  The European Union's (EU) 27 member states rejected participation in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) with 478 members voting against, 39 voting in favor, and 165 members abstaining. (See earlier blog for further background information.)

The controversial copyright- and trademark-related trade agreement previously provoked huge demonstrations across Europe.  The vote is another setback for entertainment and content companies that have been pushing governments around the world to combat copyright theft. That effort floundered in the U.S. earlier this year when Congress dropped the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) legislation. 

The aim of ACTA is to strengthen and standardize intellectual property rights globally and to crack down on online piracy.  However, critics argued that agreement was crafted without input from the public and said its stringent copyright measures could hamper future online innovation. Opponents of ACTA hailed the outcome of the European Parliament’s vote and said it could cause other countries to question whether to ratify the anti-piracy agreement.

Supporters of the trade agreement lamented the outcome of the vote and argued that it would be damaging to intellectual property rights in Europe.  Entertainment and content companies had lobbied hard for ACTA, arguing that online piracy is “cutting into their bottom lines and hurting job growth.”  A coalition of ACTA backers, including the Business Software Alliance and Motion Picture Association of America, said in a joint statement that they are still waiting for the EU Court of Justice to issue its opinion on the agreement. Carol Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, expressed disappointment with the vote and noted that ACTA will be more Pacific-focused without the EU’s participation.

Eight countries — including the United States, Australia, Canada, Korea, Japan and New Zealand — signed ACTA this past fall. The EU played a key role in the negotiations of the agreement, but did not sign it.  The agreement still needs six countries to ratify it in order to be promulgated.  However, the EU vote means that it will not come into force in Europe should other countries ratify it. 

EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor and report on this issue.