Neelie Kroes, who is responsible for the European Commission's Digital Agenda, said the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) would probably never be agreed upon following significant public protests against measures included in the treaty aimed at combating online copyright infringement.
"We have recently seen how many thousands of people are willing to protest against rules which they see as constraining the openness and innovation of the Internet," Kroes said in a speech last week. "This is a strong new political voice. And as a force for openness, I welcome it, even if I do not always agree with everything it says on every subject."
"We are now likely to be in a world without SOPA [the failed proposed Stop Online Piracy Act in the US] and without ACTA. Now we need to find solutions to make the Internet a place of freedom, openness, and innovation fit for all citizens, not just for the techno avant-garde," she said.
ACTA requires member countries to have in place "enforcement procedures" under national laws that allow for "effective" action to be taken against intellectual property (IP) 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.
In January the UK, along with 21 other EU member countries, signed up to ACTA at a ceremony in Japan. Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the US signed ACTA in October last year.
However, in February thousands of people took to the streets of cities across Europe to protest against the impact they believe ACTA would have on their internet freedoms. A number of EU ACTA signatories, including Poland and the Czech Republic, have expressed concern with the proposed text and have suspended their "ratification" of it. The signatory countries and the European Parliament must approve the text before it can come into effect.
Other concerns have been raised about the secrecy in which ACTA was negotiated, with a rapporteur on the text at the European Parliament previously resigning in protest over the ACTA signing process - something he referred to as a "charade".
In April the EU's own privacy watchdog – the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) – said that ACTA does not provide adequate data protection and privacy safeguards for individuals. The wording of the ACTA text is not sufficiently detailed to guarantee that individuals' rights would not be breached in any enforcement against suspected online copyright infringers, the EDPS' opinion said.
ACTA implies that rights holders will in some form monitor use of the internet to identify alleged infringements of their rights by individuals in order to seek an injunction against individuals, according to the watchdog. Such activity would amount to processing of "sensitive data" because it would relate to suspected offenders, it said. The EDPS said widespread monitoring by rights holders would be neither necessary nor proportionate and would not be justified.
The European Commission has already asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to review whether ACTA is compatible with the guardian principles and rights behind EU law. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht has urged the Parliament to wait for the ECJ to issue its verdict before determining whether to approve it or not. A final vote by MEPs is expected by June.