If ACTA is a nuclear sub, the European Parliament just sank it

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The European Parliament has rejected Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a proposed piece of internet legislation that threatened to apply restrictions to online freedom.

ACTA is an international blueprint for handling intellectual property infringement. More specifically, it provides guidelines — subject to tweaking by a signing country’s own domestic laws — for dealing with counterfeit goods, generic medicines and most importantly for us netizens, copyright infringement on the internet.

Designed as a trade agreement by the US, it was signed in October of last year by Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. In January this year, the European Union and 22 of its member states signed as well.

Today, the European Parliament completely changed the continent’s stance, rejecting ACTA by 478 votes to 39.

That reversal comes largely on the back of protest, particularly around the secrecy with which most countries acted in ratifying ACTA. When the people of Poland found out that their government joined ACTA, 250 000 citizens signed a petition and thousands marched in protest.

Many also took issue with the fact that the treaty seemed to imply that ISPs would be forced to monitor everything their users do. What it actually seemed to imply — in terms of online policies — is the possible creation of a safe harbour for ISPs with infringing subscribers. Think France’s HADOPI or the American safe harbour provision in the DMCA.

Timothy Lee from Ars Technica points out that there are also innocuous — offline — ways a country could comply. These include holding conferences on copyright enforcement, sending literature to businesses encouraging them to respect copyright, and setting up an anonymous tip line for suspected copyright or trademark infringement.

So while much of the web is heralding a SOPA-style victory for web freedom, it seems that restrictions could still be applied, just not under an easily attackable acronym.

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