EU parliamentarians criticize anti-counterfeiting deal

An EU commissioner says the talks are 'disappointing'

The proposed multilateral Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has hit a stumbling block over the liability of ISPs in allowing customers access to peer-to-peer file-sharing sites and the inclusion of geographic indicators.

European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht, gave a statement to the European Parliament on Tuesday and attempted to downplay fears that the agreement could infringe individual civil liberties and result in increased border searches for counterfeit and pirated goods. Personal laptops and MP3 players will not be searched, the commissioner said, adding that only piracy and counterfeiting on a commercial scale are of interest.

However, he said that he would walk away from any deal if it did not include so-called geographic indicators, which aim to protect E.U. products such as champagne or Parma ham. De Gucht described the latest round of negotiations in Washington, D.C., last month as "disappointing".

The international deal seeks to enforce intellectual property rights and combat online piracy and illegal software. But parliamentarians are still very concerned about the secretive nature of the negotiations as U.S. officials have prevented the European Commission from publishing the draft agreement online. Some 377 MEPs have signed a document calling on E.U. negotiators to reveal the full negotiating text to Parliament before any deal is signed. "There is confusion and vagueness about what is targeted," said French MEP Françoise Castex.

MEPs will have to approve any deal and are concerned that the agreement may not uphold E.U. rules on data protection and privacy. There are fears that "big business" will be protected at the expense of consumers. Under the latest draft, governments are still free to legislate on piracy and ISPs at their own discretion, but there are fears that where stricter countries lead, others will follow. Ireland has already instigated a so-called three-strikes rule making ISP Eircom responsible for preventing file sharing and cracking down on individual customers' downloads.

Some parliamentarians also queried the effectiveness of an agreement that does not include China, the source of the vast majority of counterfeit goods coming on to the E.U. market. Last year, China accounted for almost 65 percent of all cases of counterfeit goods seized by E.U. customs.

The 10th round of negotiations will take place in Japan later this month.

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