On Wednesday, the European Parliament overwhelmingly defeated the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) anti-piracy trade agreement, amidst broad opposition across Europe and concern that it would limit Internet freedom.
The final vote tally of only 39 in favor and 478 against (with 165 abstentions) means the treaty is dead in Europe.
For background, ACTA is essentially the European version of SOPA and PIPA – legislation aimed at eradicating the presence of online piracy. Unlike SOPA and PIPA, which would have forced websites to actively monitor their content and delete anything that resembled copyright infringement, ACTA takes a more proactive approach. ACTA, could have involved the large-scale monitoring of users' behavior and their electronic communications."
The treaty was unanimously approved by the 27 EU heads of government in December. Supporters said ACTA was necessary in order to create a worldwide standard to protect the rights of those who produce products that are often pirated (i.e. music, movies, etc.). Countries like the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea also signed the trade agreement (though have not ratified it).
But EU efforts to ratify it ran into deep trouble almost immediately. Internet freedom advocates argued that ratifying the treaty would lead to a loss of privacy. They charged that the treaty had such broadly-defined criteria that it would allow censorship and invasions of privacy. Protests erupted on the streets of several European cities. A petition against ACTA garnered 2.8 million signatures.
PolicyMic's George Shunick writes, "ACTA obviously isn’t the first of these types of bills, and it certainly won’t be the last. However, the answer isn’t to pass bills that sacrifice the fundamental rights of privacy possessed by citizens, in a questionably effective attempt to preserve the profits of producers. No one denies that producers deserve to be compensated for their work. But internet users are equally entitled to their privacy. Moreover, any idea that these bills would do away with piracy is foolish; Megaupload, a major downloading site, was taken down months ago, without the need of invasive legislation. Did it make a dent in piracy? No."
Despite the vote, European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht said he will push ahead with his plan to send the treaty to Europe's highest court to determine whether the treaty would curtail any fundamental European rights. "It's clear that the question of protecting intellectual property does need to be addressed on a global scale — for business, the creative industries whether in Europe or our partner countries," De Gucht said. "With the rejection of ACTA, the need to protect the backbone of Europe's economy across the globe: our innovation, our creativity, our ideas — our intellectual property — does not disappear."
For now, chalk one up for internet freedom advocates. But, as the introduction of SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA reveal, this is a long-term fight with many more battles to come.