The European Parliament on Wednesday declared its independence from a controversial global anti-piracy accord, rejecting the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
Its fate was also uncertain in the United States. Despite the Obama administration signing its intent to honor the deal last year, there was a looming constitutional showdown on whether Congress, not the administration, held the power to sign on to ACTA.
Overall, not a single nation has ratified ACTA, although Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea last year signed their intent to do so. The European Union, Mexico and Switzerland, the only other governments participating in ACTA’s creation, had not signed their intent to honor the plan.
More than three years in the making and open for signing until May 2013, ACTA exports on participating nations an intellectual-property enforcement regime resembling the one in the United States.
Among other things, the accord demands governments make it unlawful to market devices that circumvent encryption, such as devices that copy encrypted DVDs without authorization. That is akin to a feature in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the United States, where the law has been used by Hollywood studios to block RealNetworks from marketing DVD-copying technology.
ACTA, which the Obama administration maintains does not require Congressional approval, also calls on participating nations to maintain extensive seizure and forfeiture laws when it comes to counterfeited goods that are trademarked or copyrighted. Most important, countries must carry out a legal system where victims of intellectual property theft may be awarded an undefined amount of monetary damages.
In the United States, for example, the Copyright Act allows for damages of up to $150,000 per infringement. A Boston jury has dinged a college student $675,000 for pilfering 30 tracks on Kazaa, while a Minnesota jury has awarded the Recording Industry Association of America $1.5 million for the purloining of 24 songs online.
A U.S.-backed footnote removed from the document more than a year ago provided for “the termination” of internet accounts for online infringers.
Until European Union authorities began leaking the documents text more than a year ago, the Obama administration was claiming the accord was a “national security” secret.