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MEPs try again to force ACTA transparency

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The European Parliament has repeated its call for greater transparency in negotiations over an international intellectual property agreement. A majority of MEPs has signed a declaration demanding the publication of negotiation documents.

The European Commission began negotiating the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA) on the EU's behalf nearly three years ago, and secrecy has surrounded the process ever since. It is being discussed outside of the remit of existing trade groups the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

Users' rights advocates have from the start expressed fears that the treaty could erode protections in national laws for users' rights.

The declaration signed by the majority of MEPs, and therefore adopted as the official position of the Parliament, demands that the European Commission publish all the negotiating documents in relation to ACTA and opposes further harmonisation of EU copyright, patent or trade mark law.

In a debate in the European Parliament the EU's Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht said that the agreement was not "about checking on the content of travelers’ laptops or computers [and will] not lead to limitation of civil liberties or harassment of consumers".

"[ACTA] will not change any EU legislation through the back door", he said, also claiming that the agreement would not restrict access to generic medicines.

A draft of ACTA was published in April, following a threat from the European Parliament that it would take the Commission to the European Court of Justice if it did not give the Parliament access to documents on negotiations being carried out on Europeans' behalf.

"The Commission should immediately make all documents related to the ongoing negotiations publicly available," said the MEPs' declaration. "The proposed agreement should not force limitations upon judicial due process or weaken fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and the right to privacy."

"Internet service providers should not bear liability for the data they transmit or host through their services to an extent that would necessitate prior surveillance or filtering of such data," it said. "[And] any measure aimed at strengthening powers of cross-border inspection and seizure of goods should not harm global access to legal, affordable and safe medicines."

Earlier this year India wrote to WTO and WIPO claiming that because it went further than some existing WTO and WIPO agreements, ACTA undermined the authority of those international agreements. It also said that despite the fact that India was not a negotiating party to ACTA, its generic pharmaceuticals industry could be harmed by the treaty.

See: The declaration (2-page Microsoft Word document)

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