[JURIST] The European Commission [official website] said Wednesday that they will seek guidance [press release] from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] before moving forward with the ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) [text, PDF], a controversial international anti-piracy agreement. Commissioner Karel De Gucht said she hoped the guidance of the ECJ would ease the concerns of European citizens who worry the agreement could lead to censorship. The decision to put ratification on hold comes after a number of European groups expressed opposition [AP report]. De Gucht is confident that the ruling of the ECJ will calm these fears:
In recent weeks, the ratification process of ACTA has triggered a Europe-wide debate on ACTA, the freedom of the internet and the importance of protecting Europe’s Intellectual Property for our economies. … [L]et me be clear: ACTA will change nothing about how we use the internet and social websites today—since it does not introduce any new rules. ACTA only helps to enforce what is already law today. ACTA will not censor websites or shut them down; ACTA will not hinder freedom of the internet or freedom of speech. Let’s cut through this fog of uncertainty and put ACTA in the spotlight of our highest independent judicial authority: the European Court of Justice.
The European Commission unanimously passed the ACTA in December 2011. It must be ratified by the EU national governments to go into effect.
Recently, there has been a surge in government attention to copyright issues. Last month, the US House of Representatives [official website] announced it will postpone hearings [JURIST report] on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) [text, PDF] in the midst of national protest. Also last month, the Spanish government approved a new law [JURIST report] that creates a government agency with the authority to force Internet service providers to block certain websites that are involved in pirating copyrighted material. The ECJ ruled in November that ISPs cannot be required by law to monitor [JURIST report] their customers’ activities as an attempt to combat illegal sharing of copyrighted material. In October, the US Supreme Court considered the issue of foreign copyrights in the case of Golan v. Holder when it considered arguments to determine the copyright status of foreign works [JURIST report] that used to be in the public domain. A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that a music file-sharing site could be held liable for contributory copyright infringement [JURIST report] in August.