The European Commission (EC) slammed the brakes on a highly-controversial anti-counterfeiting treaty on Wednesday by referring it to Europe's top court, which will assess the legality of the international proposition and give the EC guidance on its applicability.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has been in the works for years and has been signed by 22 EU member states and the likes of the United STates, Canada and Japan, but has recently come under heavy scrutiny from consumer interest groups and rights activists who believe the treaty will infringe on free speech and inhibit the sharing of information.
Similar to recently squashed U.S. proposition likes PIPA and SOPA, ACTA looks to cut down on copyright infringement and online piracy but on an international scale.
EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht said that the decision to refer the treaty to the European Court of Justice is an effort to remove the "fog of misinformation" that surrounds ACTA.
"This debate must be based upon facts and not upon the misinformation or rumor that has dominated social media sites and blogs in recent weeks," De Gucht told The Guardian. "ACTA will not censor websites or shut them down; ACTA will not hinder freedom of the internet or freedom of speech."
Officials have noted that ACTA won't even change EU laws; it will simply protect member states from nations that have less strict intellectual property laws. Still, like with PIPA and SOPA, dozens of groups are worried that the treaty would be the first step toward widespread Internet censorship and could lead to a real loss in online privacy.
Campaigners have rallied against the treaty this past month in several European capitals, leading several EU nations, including Germany, the Netherlands and Poland, to declare that they would not sign off on the document in its current form. All 27 member states need to sign the treaty for it to be ratified.
In addition to the protests, the infamous hacker group Anonymous broke into the U.S. Trade Commission website and those of several consumer rights to post messages satirizing ACTA.
By sending the treaty to the European Court of Justice, the EC will at least buy itself some more time to campaign for support or alter the document. The court's signature could also give the commission more momentum to push the measure through.
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