EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Admits ACTA Is Probably Dead

A European Commissioner for the first time said openly on Friday that the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is more or less dead in the water.

"We are now likely to be in a world without SOPA [Stop Online Piracy Act] and without ACTA," Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a speech to bloggers and Web entrepreneurs in Berlin.

ACTA is an international anti-piracy agreement that was signed by the European Union, the U.S. and nine other countries in January. It will enter into force after ratification by six of the signatory states, but so far none have done so. In the E.U., the deal must be approved by the European Parliament before it can become law.

Following widespread protests across Europe, which Kroes described as "a wake up call," most E.U. parliamentarians look set to vote against ACTA at a plenary session in June or July. The main concern with the accord relates to the digital chapter, which would allow countries to force ISPs to hand over information about their customers' online activities if they are suspected of breaching copyright.

In an effort to appease critics, the Commission, which negotiated the agreement on behalf of the E.U., has asked the European Court of Justice to rule on whether the deal is compatible with E.U. law. Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht has urged the Parliament to delay voting on ACTA until after it has ruled. But, as observed by Kroes on Friday, that seems unlikely to happen.

The top digital agenda policy maker also criticized "out-of-date rules and practices -- like those on copyright licensing. Of course, changing for the digital age doesn't mean always giving material away free of charge. But it does mean we need to be open to new approaches," she said.

"We need to wake up and smell the coffee," said Kroes advocating a free and open Internet. "But that is not the same as being a lawless wild west."

Last month, the independent European Data Protection Supervisor said that ACTA lacked precision about what measures could be used to tackle infringements of intellectual property rights online and could result in a processing of personal data by ISPs that goes beyond what is allowed under E.U. law.

Kroes comments on Friday indicate that at least some policy makers within the Commission also accept that the deal is dead.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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