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ACTA opponents welcome Germany's decision

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, February 10 2012

Opponents of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) welcomed the official decision by the German government today to wait for action from the European Parliament before signing the treaty, calling it a sign that the debate over the balance between copyright protection and Internet freedom has become more explicitly political.

Germany's decision was set in motion by a statement released Wednesday by Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, the German justice minister, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet and a member of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). In the text and video statement (which has been watched close to 38,000 times), headlined "Engaged Discussion of ACTA is positive," she praises the engaged and public debate around the treaty that is now under way. She emphasizes that it is necessary that all facts about the subject be on the table. The delay is meant to make time for further discussion on the treaty, officials have said.

"The European Parliament must now study ACTA intensively and examine every open question, every point of criticism," she states. "And the European Parliament must decide if it wants or does not want ACTA."

The decision to stall ACTA indicates that Internet policy issues have gained more attention on the national stage in Germany, according to Dorothee Bär, a party official in Bavaria's CSU party and a member of the German parliament.

"I was very happy [about the decision] because it shows that the people in our country are being heard," she wrote in an email. "That creates trust and I find that very important."

CSU is a sister group to the larger CDU; as a group, the two parties also recently proposed a permanent parliamentary committee on Internet issues to continue the work of the existing Committee of Inquiry on the Internet and Digital Society, which is expected to deliver its results by the summer.

Supporters of ACTA in the German government and European Parliament could not immediately be reached. But in a previous e-mail exchange, MEP Marielle Gallo told techPresident in January that the European Commission supported the agreement and Parliament there had issued two legal opinions finding that ACTA was compatible with European law.

Inside Germany, trade groups have voiced their displeasure over the decision.

"With its backwards [slide] regarding the Anti-Piracy agreement ACTA the German Government is hurting Germany as location for innovation and is sending the wrong signal to Brussels," the chief executive of the National Association of German Industry said, according to German press reports. "The government must now take its responsibility and quickly sign the agreement."

While the European Commission and 22 European member countries have signed the agreement, it needs to be ratified by the European Parliament for it to take effect in member countries. Meanwhile, protests against the treaty have sprung up throughout Europe, and more are planned for this weekend.

According to a wiki set up by anti-ACTA activists, hundreds of protests are planned across Europe tomorrow. Thousands of people have rsvp'd on Facebook. The government decision is giving extra energy to protest organizers. "Don't forget: We will only be spared ACTA if the protest that the German government fears also really materializes. So to the demo tomorrow!" one supporter tweeted.

For French Internet activist Jérémie Zimmerman from La Quadrature du Net, the debate has also reached an important milestone.

"The ACTA debate is -finally- turning political," he told techPresident in an email. "Instead of arguing over every single paragraph of the agreement and its interpretation, it's the general principle of an agreement, negotiated in secret by 39 countries, that will have an impact on a Free Internet and our fundamental freedoms that is infuriating citizens," he wrote. "Only such political pressure on the European Parliament can make its Members work towards killing ACTA once and for all. Such a victory in the EP would open the door towards pushing a positive agenda in revisions of copyright laws that could for once take into account the public rights and new cultural practices."

Poland also recently suspended its ratification of ACTA after protests in that country.

With Antonella Napolitano