European Commission Blames Social Networks For ACTA Failure; Worried About Its Imminent Directive On Copyright Enforcement
from the still-not-listening dept
Now that the EU's ratification of ACTA has departed from the original script of everyone just waving it through, the European Commission is clearly trying to come up with Plan B. Some insights into its thinking can be gained from the minutes (pdf) of a recent Commission meeting, pointed out to us by André Rebentisch.
Here's what the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said about ACTA:
The President introduced the topic, commenting on the intensity and scale of the public debate and the organised campaign against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). There were those in particular who felt that the agreement would lead specifically to an unwarranted restriction on freedom of expression and democracy on the Internet, and would distort the reasonable balance between intellectual property rights and other fundamental rights.
The suggestion that the anger over ACTA was somehow part of an "organised campaign" looks like a continuing failure to grasp that the protests were about all Internet users across Europe coming together to defend their online community. As for the "common approach" with the European Parliament, it's easy to see why the European Commission would want this: it would allow the referral of ACTA to the European Court of Justice to be framed in such a way as to increase the likelihood of a positive response from the court. It will be interesting to see whether the European Parliament acquiesces in this, or continues to take a hard line on the need for more searching questions to be asked.
He therefore felt that the Court of Justice of the European Union should be asked to confirm the Commission’s position in this matter, namely that ACTA was consistent and compatible with the Treaties and with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. He suggested that that day’s discussion should consider that point, but also the question of when would be an appropriate time to refer the matter to the Court, and the possibility of consulting Parliament and the Council with a view to adopting a common approach in this matter.
Barroso's comments were followed by some observations from Karel De Gucht, the European Commissioner with direct responsibility for ACTA, who made some revealing remarks:
He noted that opposition had increased in the run-up to January’s planned vote in the US Congress on two legislative initiatives -- the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) -- aimed at increasing the protection of intellectual property rights on the Internet; in the end the vote had not been held, following a hostile campaign by social networks and the loss of White House support.
It's interesting to see De Gucht linking the growing hostility to ACTA with the storm generated by SOPA/PIPA, and giving the credit for stopping those US bills to a "hostile campaign" waged by social networks. You can tell this really worries him, because he says something similar about social networks and ACTA immediately afterwards:
Despite the signature of ACTA in January by the Commission, the Union Presidency and twenty-one other Member States, the intense media campaign which was unleashed in Europe, instigated largely by the social networks, had since led a number of Union Heads of State or Government to decide to delay signature or ratification of the agreement by their national parliaments. He added that the campaign had also had a considerable influence on Members of the European Parliament and, following recent contacts with various political groups, he now felt it would be difficult to muster a majority in favour of ACTA within the EP.
What's extraordinary is that no less than three other commissioners also spoke at the meeting about the importance of social networks, and the need to grapple with them.
She concluded by highlighting the rising influence of social networks on the Internet and the need for the Commission to take account of this in its communication policy and in dealing with various dossiers. Instructions had already been given to the communication units in the Directorates-General.
She concluded by stressing the need for appropriate communication on the agreement, without waiting for the Court’s opinion, targeted particularly at the various stakeholders involved and social networks.
was also of the opinion that the key role of social networks in public debate in Europe forced the Commission to think carefully about adapting some of its means of communication and that Members should discuss the matter as soon possible.
What emerges very clearly from this is that the most senior politicians in the European Union are completely nonplussed by the power of social networks to mobilize not just Net activists but ordinary Internet users, and are struggling to deal with it. I think we can expect to see attempts to neutralize that new force by "reaching out" to social networks in a variety of ways in the coming months. One area where that will clearly happen is for the forthcoming update on the EU's "IPR Enforcement Directive", generally known as IPRED. The Commission meeting referred to it explicitly:
As regards the planned revision of the 2004 Directive on enforcement of intellectual property rights, the Commission needed to adopt a prudent and balanced approach to this politically delicate exercise, and take account of existing texts on the protection of data and privacy in the areas of telecoms and fundamental rights.
The EC knows that it must be very careful here, because the measures already mooted for the next version of IPRED are very close to some of SOPA's bad ideas -- for example, turning ISPs into copyright cops. The European Commission has observed what happened in the US, and is clearly very concerned that the IPRED update will meet the same opposition from those mysterious, uncontrollable social networks as SOPA/PIPA did and ACTA is now doing.