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.
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 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.
‘It appears the media in member states has also played a part in the hush-up’As for copyright, I have the same opinion as on all other [areas of] law. As long as the law protects the freedoms and security of individuals and society, it’s fine. The law must protect property and ownership, both material and intellectual. But if legal provisions are created to defend some peoples’ chain profits, or create conditions for [generating] downright unjustifiable profits, or even theft, then they are bad and deformed. I understand that it’s appropriate for an author to receive money when someone copies his book, but if some dodgy company collects baksheesh from flash disks or blank CDs, or a fee for whatever, it’s filth and legalized theft.
At one point as a businessman I encountered a situation when there was a jazz group in my company which on an open day in my shop for customers performed only its own compositions. Some nasty piece of work from some association or another turned up and demanded money which he finally got because apparently according to the law he had the right to it. Of course this is ridiculous because, as I have said, the musicians only played their own improvisations and nothing else. These absurdities should be liquidated. And as for the ACTA and similar attempts by the US to enforce its crazy legislation on the rest of the world? It’s completely wide of the mark.”
Vehicle for commercial interests
Miroslav Randorf (Communist Party, KSČM): ‘By and large Kim Schmitz didn’t break any laws, he only sidelined various powerful intermediaries and middlemen and it was in their interests that the US acted’“Our group [the European United Left–Nordic Green Left] in the European Parliament put forward around 20 proposed amendments, which unfortunately were not accepted. We want to preserve freedom of cyberspace, and I categorically disagree with arresting the person who founded Megaupload. The Americans arrested him in another country on weak legal grounds, and now it’s logical that the protest movement is spreading across the world. It’s obvious the aim is to take control of cyberspace and for firms who produce music players to protect their inflow of money.
By and large Kim Schmitz [a.k.a. Kim Dotcom, the founder of Megaupload] didn’t break any laws, he only sidelined various powerful intermediaries and middlemen and it was in their interests that the US acted. Unfortunately interest in clearing the Internet space of criminal activities such as child pornography is secondary. Currently, purely commercial interests are paramount. If we were to support the ACTA, first it would be necessary to change it to accommodate the need for freedom in cyberspace.”
Individual rights under threat
Zuzana Roithová (KDU-ČSL): “I won’t vote for the ACTA, but I will try for many things to be explained and defined, points which are unclear or controversial and could have negative consequences for people who have done nothing wrong. It presents such a fundamental threat to personal freedoms that I’m sorry the ACTA was signed in its current form and shortcomings that could cause problems for law-abiding citizens have not been removed.
‘The ACTA should be aimed at countering piracy on a commercial level, not intimidating and bullying individuals’A systematic problem of the agreement is that countries where there are the greatest problems with piracy (China, India, Brazil) didn’t participate in the negotiations, and it’s not likely they’ll join the agreement; therefore, a fundamental breakthrough in the protection of intellectual property cannot be expected.
Under pressure from the European Parliament following the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, the text of the ACTA was made available at least to MEPs, and I consider it to be a certain success that at the negotiations our demand to introduce guarantees for protection of Internet users and the right to fair trial was put forward.
On the other hand, I blame the Commission for not introducing the issue of labeling country of origin of food products. By contrast the US entertainment industry managed to push through all the important things for the sector. Italy and Spain, countries that produce a range of special foods, are now worried that the legal situation with food labeling on world markets will even get worse. And this could also affect the Czech Republic.
Without even defining the extent of commercial activity and practices, criminal accountability will be extended to relatively non-commercial activities and by no means just organized crime. States will be obliged to conduct customs controls of even small personal parcels. Another serious problem is that the signatories will be able to conduct checks on national borders of data in portable media devices. The ACTA should be aimed at countering piracy on a commercial level, not intimidating and bullying individuals. Therefore, I will try very hard to ensure that such practices are not introduced on the territory of the EU.”
Nontransparent, but no rush
Edvard Kožušník (Civic Democrats, ODS): This is something that has basically been in play for two years, and for two years nobody was interested in who was taking what stance, and who was saying what about the ACTA. If you look at my speeches in the European Parliament in recent years, I was always on the side of those who are now protesting. ‘I was always one who criticized the non-transparency and the fact the negotiations were kept secret, but I won’t tell you my current position.’
The fact that the executive [of the European Commission] has signed, is just like the Ministry of Finance putting forward a budget plan: it either passes through parliament or it doesn’t. In the same way, for some people that budget is excellently written, but for others it’s catastrophic and could lead to demonstrations. This situation is the same. Putting hysteria aside, there’s no need to rush.
I can’t tell whether or not the ACTA will be passed. I know how I will act, but there are 753 of us, and the debate has progressed. I was always one who criticized the non-transparency and the fact the negotiations were kept secret, but I won’t tell you my current position. We intend to discuss the issue within the ODS on Wednesday.
I don’t like the fact that a certain group exists that in recent years has transformed itself into a political initiative or movement – pirates who are unscrupulously manipulating the current developments. I understand that it’s their legitimate right, but it has become their one and only theme.”