European Commission drops court challenge of ACTA legality

The EU puts a stake in the anti-piracy treaty, which can 'no longer come back from the grave'

By Jennifer Baker, IDG News Service |  IT Management

The European Commission has finally killed ACTA, the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, by withdrawing its bid to have the treaty's legality confirmed.

ACTA was rejected by the European Parliament in July following widespread protests across Europe. The treaty had been agreed to and signed on behalf of Europe by the European Commission in January 2012.

But as civil liberties groups raised the alarm, many countries backpedaled on their decision to sign. The major sticking point was the digital chapter, which opponents said would leave the door open for countries to force ISPs to police their customers.

In April, the European Union's top data privacy watchdog, the European Data Protection Supervisor, criticized the treaty, which was meant to combat piracy, warning that it could lead to widespread monitoring of the Internet.

In order to appease opposition to the treaty, Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, asked Europe's top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), to rule on whether it breached freedom of expression under E.U. law.

After anti-ACTA protesters accused E.U. leaders of stalling, the Parliament decided to vote on the treaty without waiting for a court decision, rejecting it 478-39.

But even after ACTA was rejected by the Parliament and could not become E.U. law, De Gucht held out hope that a positive response from the EJC would allow him to reintroduce it.

The Commission's announcement that it was withdrawing its request to the ECJ, was greeted with delight by those who had worked to defeat ACTA.

"Withdrawal of ECJ referral of ACTA shows that citizens were right, and that Commissioner DeGucht was wrong and lying," tweeted Jeramie Zimmerman of the digital liberties group La Quadrature du Net.

Meanwhile, European Parliamentarian David Martin, who had advised his colleagues to reject ACTA, said that he was pleased ACTA could "no longer come back from the grave in Europe."

And it appears that the international agreement is also dead elsewhere. It can only enter into force if ratified by six of the remaining 10 signatory states: Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, the U.S. and Switzerland. So far only Japan has ratified it.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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