The International Trade Committee (INTA) of the European Parliament [official websites] on Thursday rejected [press release] the proposed Anti-Countefeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) [text, PDF] in a vote of 19-12 vote. The ACTA's goal is to counter intellectual property theft, such as fake consumer goods and medicine as well as digital file-sharing of pirated media. The 31 members of the European Parliament debated the agreement and concluded that its vague language and disproportional fines could infringe upon individuals' right to free expression and punish those who download materials for personal use as argued [AP report] by opponents of the agreement. The Parliament as a whole will debate the agreement on July 3 and vote on it on July 4. If rejected by the Parliament it will bar EU member states from enacting laws similar to the ACTA on their own. In addition, it is predicted that if the ACTA is rejected, the European Commission [official website], which negotiated the agreement on behalf of the European Union (EU) [official website] and has expressed its support for the agreement, will have only limited options to pursue such as asking negotiating partners to amend the language of the ACTA or negotiate an entire new treaty.
In February, the European Commission announced [JURIST report] that it will seek guidance from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] before ratifying the ACTA to ease protesters' concerns with the ACTA's possible censorship of free expression. Hearings on a similar bill in the US were postponed [JURIST report] in January by Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) [official website]. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) [text, PDF] would effectively block foreign websites that are suspected to infringe copyrights and give the US Department of Justice (DOJ) increased authority in counterfeiting copyright infringement. In November, the ECJ ruled [JURIST report] that Internet service providers (ISPs) cannot be required by law to monitor their customers' activities as an attempt to combat illegal sharing of copyrighted material.