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As Public ACTA Debate Begins, Controversy Remains

BY Antonella Napolitano | Monday, March 5 2012

A March 1 workshop on ACTA held by Parliament's trade committee. Photo: European Parliament

The European conversation over a controversial trade agreement has become laden with "organized misinformation," EU Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht said Saturday.

Speaking on BBC's The Record: Europe program, de Gucht said opponents of the treaty, called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, have exaggerated what the implications would be if the treaty were ratified.

"What bothers me the most in all this we cannot have a rational debate on this," De Gucht said. "By this campaign you get the impression that there are people in the European Commission who wouldn't object that lifesaving medicines for the Third World are stopped at our borders. We are not, and this is really organized misinformation."

The agreement would lay the framework for each ratifying member to handle copyright infringement going forward, and set new standards for dealing with intellectual property violations

De Gucht's comments come after his attendance at a March 1 workshop hosted by the parliament's trade committee, the primary venue for discussion of ACTA in the EU's popularly elected body. It was an opportunity for opponents of the treaty to weigh in on its provisions.

The core of the workshop was a first panel featuring De Gucht, professor Christophe Geiger, an expert on intellectual property, and Michael Geist, who teaches Internet and e-commerce Law at Ottawa University (Canada is one of the countries that signed the treaty).

The controversy around the possible changes in national laws also brings a sort of a paradox, according to Geist:

There is ongoing disagreement over ACTA’s impact on domestic law – some argue that it will not change existing rules, while others believe that ACTA could require domestic changes – but both interpretations hurt the case for ratification.  If ACTA does not change domestic rules, it is far less likely to contribute positively to the battle against counterfeiting.  If it does require domestic change, ratification of the agreement raises constitutional and procedural questions as well as substantive concerns about the likely changes.

His claim seemed to be supported in the second part of the workshop, when legal experts said that ACTA's provisions would not supersede existing domestic or international agreements, such as TRIPS, the WTO treaty on intellectual property rights.

The treaty also seems to lump digital copyright infringement in with issues like the distribution of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, Geiger, the intellectual property expert, said.

“Digital copyright infringement is different from counterfeiting medicines, ACTA isn't clear enough about this,” he said.