European parliament throws out online piracy pact

The European parliament on Wednesday threw out a controversial global pact to battle counterfeiting and online piracy, quashing any EU ratification and possibly killing it for good.

Twenty-two of the 27 EU states as well as other countries, including the United States and Japan, signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in January but the treaty has yet to be ratified anywhere amid protests that it would curtail Internet freedom.

The parliament ignored European Commission pleas that the treaty was needed to protect the economic interests of companies hit by counterfeiting and online piracy.

Members voted by 478 to 39 against the pact, with 165 abstentions, ignoring a last-minute call by conservatives for them to wait until the European Court rules on its conformity with European Union law.

The run-up to the vote, which followed the line of every parliamentary committee consulted on the pact, saw hundreds of thousands of people demonstrate against ACTA and 2.8 million sign a petition decrying it.

Other signatories to the agreeement include Australia, Canada, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland. Six countries need to ratify it for it to come into effect.

The European parliament's rapporteur on ACTA, David Martin of Britain, acknowledged the importance of fighting counterfeiting and piracy, but he said the text of the agreement was too vague and hence threatened individual freedoms.

"The death of ACTA is good news for democracy," said French ecologist MEP Yannick Jadot.

It proved that "culture, knowledge, agriculture, health and public liberties can come out on top against the private conglomerates and the criminalisation of individual citizens".

ACTA's critics said it would lead for example to the persecution of web users suspected of illegal downloading and difficulties in obtaining generic medicines.

They also said it would have limited impact as China and Russia, considered among the main sources of fake goods and services, as well as cybercrime, were not signatories.

Conservative MEP Marielle Gallo attacked the vote as "a lack of political courage in the face of the scourge of counterfeiting", which she said cost Europe 250 billion euros a year and 100,000 jobs.

European Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht said he "took note" of the parliament decision, which did not alter the need for worldwide protection for the backbone of the European economy, "our innovation, our creativity, our ideas and our intellectual property".

German legal expert Axel Metzger commented: "It remains to be seen if the other signatories see any interest" in pursuing ratification of ACTA.

The European parliament veto could well dishearten the pact's proponents in other countries, he said.

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