Czech Euro MPs oppose ‘completely wide of the mark’ ACTA

Czech MEPs say the ACTA is nontransparent, dictated by commercial interests and a threat to individual rights and freedoms

Politics & Policy|Companies|Society
Petr Matějček | 01.02.2012

The signing of the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA) by 22 EU member states, including the Czech Republic, has met stiff public opposition across Europe. The group Anonymous has conducted a series cyber attacks on the websites of governments, international institutions and corporations, while ordinary Internet users are signing petitions. Thousands are expected to join in a protest march organized by the Czech Pirate Party. But what’s the position of the Czech Euro MPs?

Despite Czech Ambassador to Japan Kateřina Fialková having signed the ACTA in Tokyo on December 26, the controversial agreement still faces significant hurdles before it can take effect in the Czech Republic: it must first be passed by the European Parliament, then the Czech parliament and then signed by the president. Four Czech members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have told Czech Position about their stance towards the agreement.   

Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)

The aim of the ATCA is to enforce intellectual property rights and counter not only pirate software, movies and music, but also counterfeits of all kinds from clothes to medicine and even controversial patents on GM crops. Rights activists claim the law will lead to an erosion of individual rights and freedoms, government control of the Internet, and could even serve as an instrument of repression and for persecuting targeted individuals.

The first talks about the ACTA were held in 2006 by representatives of Japan and the US at the G8 Summit in Saint Petersburg. Canada, the European Commission and Switzerland later joined the talks, followed by Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Jordan, Morocco, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. However, plans for the treaty only reached the wider public following the publication of meeting minutes and other documents by Wikileaks in May 2008.

Talks on the treaty continued in almost complete secrecy until 2010, nevertheless the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) provided copies of drafts of the agreement to selected corporations including Google, eBay, Dell, Business Software Alliance, News Corporation, Sony Pictures, Time Warner and Verizon. In March, 2010, the European Parliament called upon the European Commission to report on the development of the negotiations.

Elastic ACTA?

In the Czech parliament on Monday a number of MPs from the governing coalition parties (ODS, TOP 09 and VV) and the main opposition center-left Social Democrats (ČSSD) severely criticized the ACTA and called upon the government and all MPs not to ratify the agreement. The MPs spoke about the fears of prying on individual Internet users, forced disconnections from it, and the obligation of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to answer for the actions of its users to large corporate owners of intellectual property rights. The provisions of the treaty most widely covered by the media concern powers to search personal computers, MP3 players, mobile phones and other mobile data devices on national borders to check for possession of pirated data and software.

The fact is that the current version of the agreement is not nearly as clear cut as most media reports would lead one to believe. The Czech website lupa.cz has covered the issue in detail and describes the current draft of the ACTA as “elastic” and cites a number of analyses which recommend that the EU’s Court of Justice in Luxembourg should review the draft treaty for compatibility with EU laws.

As for the provisions for powers which could lead to rights abuses, for the most part they are recommendations, not binding obligations and the words “can” and “may” far outnumber “must” and “obliged.”

Jaroslav Tajbr, a senior associate with the law firm DLA Piper, has a similar opinion: “The actual application of many of the provisions of the ACTA will be at the discretion of the signatory states because many of its clauses are conceived as just recommendations,” Tajbr told Czech Position. Thus, the agreement could be understood to be an altogether insignificant document. On the other hand, as Lupa.cz concluded, it may well turn out to be a carte blanche for the large corporate holders of patents and copyrights.

Czech MEPs’ take

The ACTA will also have to be ratified by the European Parliament that should involve reviews by a number of the parliament’s committees followed by debate and a vote at a plenary session. And Czech Position’s enquiries indicate the agreement should by no means enjoy a smooth passage through the EU’s legislature.

Czech MEPs say the agreement is nontransparent, dictated by commercial interests, threatens individual rights and freedoms and overall is “well wide of the mark.” However, it may be that they say this for the sake of gaining the support of young voters, or even to avoid becoming a target of the Anonymous movement.

Here’s what four Czech MEPs from different political groups have to say about the ACTA:   

Pavel Poc (ČSSD): “I won’t support the ACTA in the European Parliament as a matter of principle. Obviously, the way in which the agreement was negotiated is completely unacceptable. It appears the media in member states has also played a part in the hush-up. Few people know that in November 2010, the Social Democrats in the European Parliament attempted to pull out all of the poisonous teeth from the ACTA agreement with a resolution which explicitly said that the ACTA can’t be allowed to change the current legal order of the European Union.

It appears nobody knows about it now because the Czech media in particular swept it under the carpet, nor do they know that it was the right wing — the Christian Democrats and the European Conservatives and Reformists, that means the Civic Democrats (ODS) and the Christian Democrats (KDÚ-ČSL) from our country — who voted against the resolution, which let the ACTA [negotiations] continue without any major objections.