The European Commission Wants to Bring Back ACTA Through the Back Door!

Paris, 2 July 2014 — As the current European Commission sees out its last days following the European elections, it has just published an “Action Plan to address infringements of intellectual property rights in the EU” reusing some of the major concepts of the ACTA agreement that was rejected by the European Parliament in 2012 following an important citizen mobilisation. Its contents are also inspired by proposals pushed by France at the European level1, letting fear an increased implication of technical intermediaries in the enforcement of copyright and their progressive transformation into a private copyright police force.

By reusing the objective of fighting against “commercial scale” counterfeiting, the Commission has chosen to reactivate one of the worst mechanisms of the anti-counterfeiting agreement ACTA. This vague expression threatens to include non-commercial online sharing activities and introduces the same legal uncertainty which was at the heart of the citizen mobilisation against ACTA, right up to its final rejection by the elected representatives of the Parliament.

The same commissioners who pushed ACTA, Karel de Gucht and Michel Barnier, now seem to be considering bypassing the European Parliament to implement this fight against “commercial scale” counterfeiting. They are in fact planning to introduce “non-legislative measures” implying the signature of simple agreements between representatives of the cultural industries and technical providers, like advertising agencies and online payment services.

These measures are directly inspired from the May 2013 Lescure Report and from the Imbert-Quaretta Report [fr] recently published in France, which La Quadrature has already denounced as potentially leading to an exra-judicial application of copyright law, converting these intermediaries in a private copyright law police force [fr]. The Commission wishes that such a system be generalized in the European Union through “Memoranda of Understanding”, providing a framework for contractual agreements negociated by private players.

Such methods will lead to the bypass of democratic procedures of control. But the Commission also proposes to reinforce the protection of intellectual property at an international level with multilateral negociations. Such statements give good reason to fear that, once again, as with the ACTA agreement, or as foreseen for the CETA and TAFTA agreements, “intellectual property” questions will be treated in an opaque way during free trade agreements, leaving elected representatives with hardly any leeway.

These announcements are all the more shocking given that the Commission launched at the end of 2013 a public consultation on the evolution of copyright in the European Union. An unprecedented number of responses showed the interest European citizens have regading this issue. But disregarding civil society, the Commission has decided to publish its plan to fight counterfeiting before the publishing the White Paper it had committed to work on following the consultation. A number of leaks concerning this White Paper have already shown that, in any case, the Commission is only considering mere cosmetic reforms, while recommending still more extra-judicial measures.

La Quadrature du Net denounces the behavior of this Commission, a Commission largely discredited by its support of ACTA and which still ignores the lesson taught the hard way by the Parliament's clear refusal in 2012. The future Commission must reject this repressive and anti-democratic approach in order to study the possibility of a positive reform of copyright at last.

“The European Commission seems to think that European citizens, whose mobilisation led to the rejection of the ACTA agreement, have no memory. But the same causes have the same effects, and the European civil society will again reject this dangerous vision copyright enforcement” concluded Lionel Maurel, cofounder of the association La Quadrature du Net.