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Euro Parliament threatens court action over ACTA secrecy

Demands to be kept in the loop

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The European Parliament has threatened to take the European Commission to the EU's highest court if it does not disclose the details of a secret international copyright treaty.

The Parliament has voted by an overwhelming majority to adopt a resolution demanding that the Commission limit the scope of the proposed treaty and inform it of its contents immediately.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a deal being negotiated by governments around the world outside of the confines of existing trade bodies such as the World Trade Organisation or the World Intellectual Property Organisation. The Commission is negotiating on behalf of the EU's 27 member states.

Secrecy has surrounded the two-year negotiations from the start and critics have alleged that figures from copyright-reliant industries such as music and film have been allowed to see more of the proposals than the citizens of the governments involved.

The Parliament has adopted by 663 votes to 13 a resolution which insists that the Commission share with it the details of the plans and underlines the fact that the Commission cannot negotiate anything not already covered by EU law.

"According to documents leaked, the ACTA negotiations touch on, among other things, pending EU legislation regarding the enforcement of IPRs [intellectual property rights] and the so-called ‘Telecoms Package’ and on existing EU legislation regarding e-commerce and data protection," it said.

"The ongoing EU efforts to harmonise IPR enforcement measures should not be circumvented by trade negotiations which are outside the scope of normal EU decision-making processes," it said. "Any agreement reached by the European Union on ACTA must comply with the legal obligations imposed on the EU with respect to privacy and data protection law."

The Parliament said that under new government structures introduced by last year's Lisbon Treaty it will have to approve any measures negotiated by the Commission.

The resolution said that since the passing of the Lisbon Treaty the Commission must inform Parliament on the progress of international negotiations, but said that it had been kept in the dark. MEPs insisted that they be informed now what shape negotiations are taking. "[The Parliament] calls on the Commission and the Council to grant public and parliamentary access to ACTA negotiation texts and summaries," said the statement.

"Unless Parliament is immediately and fully informed at all stages of the negotiations, it reserves its right to take suitable action, including bringing a case before the Court of Justice in order to safeguard its prerogatives," it said.

The Parliament's resolution demands not only that the Commission publish information about the current process, but that it change the negotiating process itself.

"[Parliament] expects the Commission to make proposals prior to the next negotiation round in New Zealand in April 2010, to demand that the issue of transparency is put on the agenda of that meeting and to refer the outcome of the negotiation round to Parliament immediately following its conclusion," it said.

The data protection advisor to EU institutions, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), warned last week that the ACTA negotiations threatened to undermine EU laws on data protection and privacy.

"Whereas intellectual property is important to society and must be protected, it should not be placed above individuals' fundamental rights to privacy and data protection," said EDPS Peter Hustinx. "A right balance between protection of intellectual property rights and the right to privacy and data protection should be ensured. It is also particularly crucial that data protection requirements are taken into account from the very beginning of the negotiations so as not later on having to find alternative privacy compliant solutions."

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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