After careful consideration, Lib Dem MEPs have decided to reject the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in the European Parliament. There is now a majority in the Parliament that will reject the ratification of this plurilateral treaty originally designed to establish international standards for intellectual property rights.
So why do we reject ACTA?
In principle, Lib Dems support the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) and the fight against counterfeiting – in particular when it comes to dangerous counterfeit medicines, electronics and toys. But we are also champions of fundamental rights and freedoms and we must weigh up carefully between the need to protect property rights and our knowledge-based economy and these fundamental freedoms.
ACTA falls short in both regards. On the one hand, it is ‘an anti-counterfeiting agreement without the counterfeiters’ as countries such as China, which is a major source of counterfeit products, have not signed up to it. This undermines the entire creditability of ACTA and demonstrates that it cannot achieve its aim to combat global counterfeiting. At the same time, ACTA poses serious risks to the fundamental rights of people in the UK and EU in its provisions on digital goods and obligations on internet service providers. Only this week, the European Data Protection Supervisor said that ACTA would allow ‘indiscriminate or widespread monitoring’ of internet users which are ‘disproportionate’ while not providing sufficient safeguards. Approving such legislation would be against the fundamental civil liberties principles of the Liberal Democrats and we have therefore decided to reject ACTA.
Without the support of the Liberal and Democrat Group (ALDE) in the European Parliament, ACTA is dead in the water. But we need to get back to the drawing board to find a more suitable multilateral solution to protect IPRs and safeguard consumers from harmful products.
ACTA bundles together too many different types of IPR enforcement under the same umbrella which undermines the protection of each. We want to see a sectoral approach with each separate agreement focusing on a specific type of IPR infringement. And we want to see emerging economies (which are the major source of counterfeit products) brought to the negotiating table, if possible within the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Most of all, we want any new negotiations to be conducted in a very transparent manner to ensure that fundamental freedoms and civil liberties are not disproportionately infringed by any new agreements.
* Catherine Bearder is MEP for South East England and Liberal Democrat spokesperson on International Trade in the European Parliament