At an exchange of views with the Committee of International Trade on 1 March, Rapporteur David Martin urged that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) debate be focused on the facts surrounding the legislation, rather than myths. A problem with the text, said Martin, was what ACTA may do unintentionally because of the vagueness of the wording, thus leading to myths.
“Now some of you may say that a million people can't be wrong. But when it comes to this issue, I think it is our responsibility as politicians to clarify misunderstandings and not go along with the crowd,” Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said. “We must seek to establish common facts so we can have a meaningful conversation with those who have genuine fears.”
Christofer Fjellner, shadow rapporteur, said that 50% of the arguments surrounding ACTA were myths, giving the example of the concern that customs would start checking iPods for pirated material. However, "the other 50% of questions surrounding the legislation are claims that are worth checking in detail", he said.
ACTA is an enforcement treaty, De Gucht explained. “That means it does not cover the details of what is legal and what is illegal but it does address procedures for ensuring that what is illegal can be redressed. It deals with civil, criminal and border enforcement, sets out some basic principles for Internet enforcement, and encourages international cooperation between 38 countries.”
The text will not censor the internet, meaning it will not require email or file-sharing monitoring; it will not oblige the inspection of individual laptops or mp3 players by customs officials and it will not impose any restrictions on trade of generic medicines, De Gucht said.
“In practice, this means that Europe will not need to make any change to our current legislation in order to comply with ACTA," De Gucht said.
Martin said the European Parliament should send its own questions to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) asking for its compliance with the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, and he suggested the Parliament produce an interim report and lay down a set of questions for the Commission to answer regarding the text. Both these steps would bring clarity to the text, which would allow the debate to center on facts rather than myths.
Martin also discussed the transparency surrounding ACTA, noting Parliament did not find the secrecy surrounding the text acceptable. He expressed concern that stakeholders were privy to information that civil society and Parliament did not have access to.
“But it’s done,” he said, concluding that the debate needed "to move away from this hang-up and focus on the text".