ACTA stumbles in Germany

ACTA stumbles in Germany

Summary: Germany's foreign office has withdrawn its plans to sign the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, while Latvia has put its ratification process on pause, as countries get cold feet about the copyright pact

TOPICS: Legal, Piracy

Germany has stepped back from signing the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, amid growing reluctance to ratify the international pact.

Flags of EU countries

Germany, one of the five EU members that has not signed ACTA, has put its next step on hold.

The country's Auswärtiges Amt, or foreign office, has withdrawn instructions to sign ACTA, an international agreement aimed at harmonising copyright enforcement around the world. A German government source told ZDNet UK on Friday the government will postpone its decision on whether it should sign or not until after the European Parliament has voted on the treaty in June.

If any EU member state does not both sign and ratify ACTA, the agreement cannot enter into force anywhere in the union, the European Commission has told ZDNet UK. The European Parliament also has to ratify the document for it to apply in the EU.

Defenders of ACTA, including EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and US president Barack Obama, have said the pact is needed to make sure the relatively high standards of copyright enforcement in the EU and US are upheld throughout the rest of the world.

However, critics have noted that the agreement was drawn up behind closed doors with no input from citizens' rights groups. They say ACTA's digital provisions could turn small-scale copyright infringement and even some legitimate online activities into crimes, while potentially crimping free expression.

In late January, 22 EU member states and the European Commission signed ACTA, joining Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the US. However, not one of these signatories has ratified ACTA yet — a necessary step if it is to be viable.

The EU countries that have not signed ACTA include Germany, Cyprus, Estonia, the Netherlands and Slovakia. De Gucht said last week that this was "either because of the minimum time required for completing their internal procedures, or because they did not currently have an ambassador in Tokyo and will therefore need to send an envoy".

Complicated discussion

However, the German government source said on Friday the issue of ACTA has become a "complicated discussion" within Germany's coalition government, with the dominant and conservative CDU party in favour of ACTA, and their liberal minority partner, the FDP, against it.

"The German foreign minister [Guido Westerwelle, of the FDP] has decided to withdraw the formal signing of ACTA," the source said.

The source explained that Westerwelle's decision is "not binding Germany in any direction", and no further decision on ACTA will be taken until the European Parliament has examined the agreement and voted on its EU-level ratification. This is scheduled to happen in mid-June.

"It's a decision which makes it possible for the European Parliament to discuss all the necessary questions. We want the European Parliament to decide," the source said.

Some European states that did sign have halted their ratification processes, for now at least. Poland was the first to pull back with an announcement last Friday, joined by the Czech Republic and, as of Wednesday, Latvia. Slovakia, which has not signed, has also called a temporary halt to ACTA's progress there, pending further consultations.

The decision to suspend Latvia's progress on ACTA came from economic minister Daniels Pavluts, who reportedly said that ratification should only follow "a constructive and reasoned dialogue and a discussion with all the interested parties".

"Despite the fact that the ACTA agreement took several years to be developed, still a number of community groups have raised concern, reflecting the public distrust in the state power and its organs," Pavluts said, quoted in a report by Latvian news agency Leta.

"Such an attitude towards the government has developed in the recent years because of the lack of a genuine dialogue between the power and the society. Restoring this confidence is a new task for the government," he added.

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Topics: Legal, Piracy

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • How dare film makers, artists or anybody that invests in creativity stop us pirating their works for free. I want to be able to walk into my local shop and take what I want without paying, just like millions do on the internet. I don't care if struggling artists can't feed their families because of piracy. They should be thankfull we take the time to listen to their music - infact they should pay us! I don't care if a young director manages to make a minor hit film with promising sales where he might just cover his costs - only for it to be posted on the piratebay and kill any chance he had of paying the cast, cameras, makeup, lighting and moving forward with new projects. In a similar vein I think my boss shouldn't bother paying me, after all I steal everything so I couldn't hold it against my boss for doing the same. Why should I be paid for my hard work? Best of all, because I now work for free I am not taxable and no longer contribute to the running of schools, roads and hospitals.
  • I totally dislike pirating of works, I fear that artists will be deterred from creating works if they think that they are going to get ripped off. However I also enjoy the free nature of the internet and am totally against any law / agreement that will impinge upon this freedom.
    The big issue / concern that I have with these agreements is how they can and will be misused. Law needs to be "future proof" as much as possible. The people who ratify this agreement need to think about all the ways that this copyright treaty could be used if a less desirable (if there is such a group) government took power!
    We read recently about the "Patriot Act" in the US, and how data stored by ANY American company can be subpoenaed. Now I know may of the UK government agencies have data held with US companies.
    I just hope that we retain the liberties (perceived I guess!) that we have now, and now have big business control the internet too much (funny I say that and yet I use Google / Apple (not my choice) etc, Hmm, I will have to think about that one!)
  • If we allow corporate interest to dictate the way our government circumvents due process against foreign entities then we should accept the same when foreign governments do the same to us.

    When U.S record companies infringe on the rights of foreign artists by copyrighting their names and songs in the U.S betting that one day they will be famous I think it would perfectly acceptable for the foreign assets of these record companies to be seized with no due process. You would be amazed at how much of their catalogs contain work that these labels don't even have the rights to sell and distribute but do so anyway because the artists are no longer living or are unaware what is happening outside their native country.

    If the RIAA shuts down a server in Ukraine or Russia without due process I think the next time Beyonce or 50 Cent has a concert there theses governments should seize their gear and concert proceeds in kind.