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May 04, 2012, 07.58 PM IST | Source: Reuters

EU digital chief downbeat about global copyright pact

EU-COPYRIGHT:EU digital chief downbeat about global copyright pact

By Claire Davenport

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A European Commission vice president said on Friday a planned global pact to crack down on fake consumer goods and medicines and websites that break copyright laws would probably never come into force, because of strong opposition.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) - which has been signed by 22 of the EU's 27 countries as well as the U.S. and Japan - is one of several to fall foul of public opinion, including the U.S.-based draft copyright bill SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act).

Even in some countries whose governments have signed ACTA, lawmakers have resisted ratifying the agreement due to public pressure.

"We are now likely to be in a world without SOPA and without ACTA," Neelie Kroes, the EU's commissioner for technology and telecoms said in a speech to bloggers and web entrepreneurs in Berlin.

Asked about the comments, her spokesman said the Commissioner was "just observing political reality".

The EU asked its top court in Luxembourg in April to examine ACTA's lawfulness, after politicians and campaigners said the agreement would allow companies to spy on ordinary Internet users suspected of downloading copyrighted material. A ruling could take up to a year.

Liberal politicians in the more than 700-seat European Parliament have been fiercely lobbying against the agreement.

"Although we unambiguously support the protection of intellectual property rights, we also champion fundamental rights and freedoms," Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the legislature's liberal group said.

"We have serious concerns that ACTA does not strike the right balance."

Several governments in the developed world have been pushing for multilateral agreements to ban trademark and copyright theft and ban websites that offer large numbers of copyrighted films and songs for free, such as MegaUploads and The Pirate Bay.

Kroes' comments come weeks before the Commission, the EU executive, is due to make public new rules to ensure that music- and film-makers get paid, and while it is trying to overhaul the bloc's copyright regime to cater for the Internet era.

Critics say the Commission is holding back planned reviews of the EU's own rules because officials are worried it will come up against the same kind of resistance as SOPA and ACTA.

"After the tremendous mobilisation of citizens around the world against SOPA and ACTA, it would be extremely dangerous politically for the Commission to propose a new repressive scheme," said Jeremie Zimmermann, from Internet advocacy group La Quadrature du Net.

(Reporting By Claire Davenport; editing by Sebastian Moffett and Rex Merrifield)

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