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ACTA will not change scope of IP protection, MEP claims

A controversial international treaty relating to the enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights does not alter the scope of protection around those rights, an MEP has said.03 Feb 2012

Vital Moreira said the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is aimed at "reinforcing" the enforcement of IP rights under existing laws and would not alter way IP rights themselves were protected. Moreira is the chair of the International Trade Committee (ITC) at the European Parliament which is due to scrutinise ACTA and recommend whether the Parliament as a whole supports its adoption.

"[ACTA is]an agreement meant to enforce the means and mechanisms to protect intellectual property rights such as copyrights, patents, geographic indications, brands, industrial design rights - it is not aimed at redefining the scope of that protection," Moreira said in a statement. "There is a World Trade Organisation (WTO) convention called TRIPS (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) that the EU and all its member states have signed up to establishing the scope and content of those rights, which foresees enforcement rules".

"ACTA simply involves an update of the means, mechanisms and remedies to protect intellectual property rights. That’s also the purpose of the existing EU [IP rights enforcement] directive, comprising a minimum set of means to protect intellectual property rights. ACTA is a multilateral agreement between some developed economies including the EU, the US and Japan, but also less-developed economies such as Mexico and Morocco, aimed at reinforcing, between those states,  the enforcement of intellectual property rights. It does not change the content, everything that was allowed continues to be allowed, everything that was forbidden keeps on being forbidden. It is about being more effective when it comes to infringements of intellectual property rights," he said.

Last week the UK and 21 other EU countries signed up to ACTA at a ceremony in Japan but the text requires approval from the European Parliament before it is binding on the EU signatories.

Moreira said that whilst the Parliament is unable to change the wording of ACTA it can choose not to approve it as well as ask the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to determine whether the text is compatible with EU law.

ACTA has proved controversial because of secrecy surrounding its negotiation and the fact it will operate outside of existing trade bodies the WTO and World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

Last week a French MEP, Kader Arif, resigned from his post as "rapporteur" on ACTA on the European Parliament's ITC saying that he wished to "denounce" the process around the signing of the agreement as bearing "no association of civil society" and lacking transparency. He said he no longer wished to participate in a "charade" and that the public should be altered to the "unacceptable situation".

ACTA requires member countries to have in place "enforcement procedures" under national laws that allow for "effective" action to be taken against infringers that is both "expeditious" and a suitable "deterrent to further infringements".

Member countries of ACTA must ensure that IP that exists in "the digital environment" can also be enforced through civil and criminal legal procedures. Enforcement must be done "in a manner that avoids the creation of barriers to legitimate activity, including electronic commerce, and ... preserves fundamental principles such as freedom of expression, fair process, and privacy".

ACTA also includes further requirements signatories must adopt relating to the systems they operate at customs and border control to combat infringement as well as statutory provisions that give courts certain powers to act against offenders in both criminal and civil proceedings.

The "effective enforcement" of IP rights is "critical to sustaining economic growth across all industries and globally," the ACTA text states.

Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the US signed ACTA in October last year.

ACTA will be scrutinised by the ITC and other committees at the European Parliament before the ITC will recommend to MEPs whether to accept or reject the text. A final vote by MEPs is expected by June.

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