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European revolt over ACTA treaty gains ground

Poles stall, Slovenian ambassador calls for protests

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The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) treaty, signed by most European countries last week, may not be a done deal after all, as governments across the continent face a storm of protest.

One of the signatories, the Slovenian ambassador to Japan Helena Drnovsek Zorko, has issued an unprecedented public apology (it's worth reading the whole statement) for signing the treaty, saying she was only obeying orders and calling for public protests on Saturday to fight the ratification of the intellectual property agreement.

“I signed ACTA out of civic carelessness, because I did not pay enough attention,” she said, in a most undiplomatic display of honesty. “Quite simply, I did not clearly connect the agreement I had been instructed to sign with the agreement that, according to my own civic conviction, limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history, and thus limits particularly the future of our children.”

She said that protests were planned in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana on Saturday, and urged the public to come and show their displeasure at the treaty and register a voice of protest. Similar demonstrations are planned in other European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Sweden and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, the Polish government has announced it is to suspend the ratification of the ACTA treaty, in light of public concern. Poland has seen some of the largest protests, with members of the parliament donning Guy Fawkes masks in protest, thousands of people taking to the streets across the country, and online attacks on the government.

"I consider that the arguments for a halt to the ratification process are justified," said Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, AFP reports. "The issue of signing of the ACTA accord did not involve sufficient consultation with everyone who is part of the process. The ACTA ratification process will be frozen as long as we haven't overcome all the doubts. This will probably require a review of Polish law. We can't rule out that, at the end of the day, this accord will not be approved."

The European Parliament (EP) is going to be the key to whether or not ACTA comes into law. While the European Commissioners have negotiated the treaty, the EP still has to ratify it, and can kill the treaty if it decides against ratification. So far, over 300,000 people have signed an online petition urging them to do just that. French EP member Kader Arif, who resigned in protest the day the treaty was signed, urged his fellow parliamentarians to reject ACTA.

"I see a great risk concerning checks at borders, and the agreement foresees criminal sanctions against people using counterfeited products as a commercial activity," he told The Guardian. "This is relevant for the trade of fake shoes or bags, but what about data downloaded from the internet? If a customs officer considers that you may set up a commercial activity just by having one movie or one song on your computer, which is true in theory, you could face criminal sanctions.”

“I don't want people to have their laptops or MP3 players searched at borders," Arif said. "There needs to be a clearer distinction between normal citizens and counterfeiters which trade fake products as a commercial activity. ACTA goes too far." ®

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