Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Monday, 2 July 2012 11:34 UK
Judgment day looms for anti-piracy deal

By Pippa Simm
BBC Democracy Live

Protesters wearing 'Anonymous' masks
Demonstrations have taken place across Europe against the treaty

As the European Parliament gears up to give its verdict on the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), BBC Democracy Live takes a look at what the treaty does, and why it's such a big deal.

So, what is it?

Acta is an international treaty designed to help countries around the world tackle large-scale intellectual property theft.

The agreement, between the EU and countries such as the US, Mexico, Canada and Japan, lays down a framework for enforcing existing copyright laws globally.

It also seeks to curb the trade of counterfeited physical goods.

Preventative measures include fines and, in some cases, imprisonment.

What is happening to the treaty now?

The agreement has been signed by 22 of the 27 EU member states, including the UK.

Outside Europe, the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea have also signed the treaty.

But several key countries, including Germany and Poland, have backed away from the deal amid large-scale protests in several European cities.

And earlier this year, the Commission referred Acta to the European Court of Justice to assess its lawfulness, in light of opposition to the plans; a ruling could take up to a year.

Crucially, Acta cannot become law in the EU unless it is formally approved by the European Parliament and all member states.

This is because the Lisbon Treaty gave the European Parliament the power to reject or approve international treaties involving the EU.

Why is it controversial?

Opponents of Acta fear its impact on civil liberties, internet freedoms, consumer privacy and human rights.

Critics are particularly angry about the "secrecy" surrounding the drafting of Acta.

I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement .... I will not take part in this masquerade
Kader Arif MEP

They say negotiations were done behind closed doors, without involving the industry and other interested groups.

French Socialist MEP Kader Arif, who was appointed to steer the treaty through the European Parliament, was so outraged by the process of negotiations he resigned.

His successor, British Labour MEP David Martin, has also acknowledged concerns about the potential threat posed to civil liberties by the copyright measures.

But supporters of Acta reject these claims, arguing that the treaty is designed to target large-scale counterfeiting businesses - not individuals.

They say citizens will benefit from the treaty because it will help to protect Europe's raw materials: innovations and ideas - and safeguard the European economy.

Where does the European Parliament stand?

The signs are that the parliament will reject the Acta treaty.

The Record: Europe looks at the arguments for and against the copyright deal

Three of the institution's four largest groups have come out against the deal: the Socialists and Democrats; the Greens; and, more recently, the Liberals.

The centre-right EPP group - the largest faction in the parliament - has not yet taken a definitive position on the treaty. In committee it proposed deferring the parliamentary vote until after the ECJ ruling; but this was rejected.

Moreover, Acta has been dealt damaging blows by four key parliamentary committees, which all voted against it.

The lead committee on Acta - the International Trade Committee - decided by 19 votes to 12 to recommend that the European Parliament says no to the deal.

What is the Commission's position?

The Commission has been instrumental in negotiating Acta and is calling for it to be approved.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht says there is no reason to be concerned about the agreement, because it introduces no new laws.

He insists the new measures will not censor or shut down websites, nor hinder freedom of speech.

Acta will change nothing about how we use the internet and social websites today - since it does not introduce any new rules
Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht

Moreover, the EU's commissioner for telecoms and technology, Neelie Kroes, makes the case that the treaty will ensure the EU's intellectual property rights are effectively protected.

However, Ms Kroes recently conceded the treaty is unlikely to be ratified in its current form, because of the strength of opposition to the plans.

So, what next?

The European Parliament will decide whether to give its consent to the treaty during the April plenary session in Strasbourg.

The debate is scheduled for 3 July, at 2pm BST. The vote will take place the following day, on 4 July, from 11am BST.

MEPs will base their decision on recommendations by the International Trade Committee, as well as the committees for legal affairs; justice and home affairs; industry; and development.

Numerous petitions - including one with nearly three million signatures - have been sent to the European Parliament calling on MEPs to reject Acta.

If Parliament says no the treaty, then the agreement falls as far as the EU is concerned.

Interested? You can watch the debate here on Democracy Live.

EU court to rule on Acta legality
23 Feb 12 |  Technology
ACTA statement
20 Oct 10 |  Europe
European watchdog warns on Acta
24 Apr 12 |  Technology
Acta criticised by key EU figure
13 Feb 12 |  Technology
The Record: Europe
05 Mar 12 |  BBC Parliament
Europe takes to streets over Acta
13 Feb 12 |  Technology

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