EU to Defer ACTA to Highest European Court

The European Union has decided to refer the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement to the European Court of Justice, the highest court in the institution, to determine whether the agreement complies with the fundamental rights of European citizens.

ACTA is designed to cut trademark theft, but much like the similar US bill SOPA, it flared protests across Europe by those who contended the measure threatened free speech and privacy concerns. In addition to other provisions, the measure asks Internet providers to cooperate with national authorities regarding privacy issues.

ACTA has been signed by 22 EU member states, including the UK, United States, Japan and Canada. However, Germany, Slovakia, Estonia, Cyprus and the Netherlands have refused to sign it, and Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Latvia have voiced concerns over ACTA’s effect on free speech and privacy issues.

Internet lobbies and health campaigners have also rallied against the measure, arguing that its controls would not only deny people access to the web but make it difficult for developing countries to access generic medications and other medical information.

“We are planning to ask Europe’s highest court to assess ACTA’s compatibility with the EU’s fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression and information or that of protection,” EU trade chief Karel De Gucht said.

De Gucht maintained that the EU continues to stand by its decision to ratify ACTA, but decided to refer the measure to the courts because of the range of protests against the bill.

“Intellectual property is Europe’s main raw material, but the problem is that we currently struggle to protect it outside the European Union. This hurts our companies, destroys jobs and harms our economies,” De Gucht said. “ACTA will not censor websites or shut them down.”