ACTA Edinburgh: David Martin’s views

Last Friday, David Martin MEP organised a seminar on ACTA in the EU Parliament’s Edinburgh offices. He invited ORG to speak, alongside Susie Winter of the Alliance Against IP Theft Infringement, a chair from the EU Commission,  and about 20 people attended the meeting.

Martin is the rapporteur for the lead EU Parliamentary committee for ACTA, International Trade. His views matter a lot, which is why his decision to recommend a no vote is highly significant.

David Martin’s starting point is strongly pro-IP. He accepts that the EU must make money through monetising “our brains” through IP, and that ACTA’s aims are laudable.

Martin is a ‘multilateralist’; that is he believes that trade negotiations should involve every country with an interest. ACTA in contrast is a treaty written by a small number of mostly developed and pro-IP nations. He said that he feels that ACTA may push the BRIC (Brazil, India, China) countries into a corner, and organisations like WIPO and the WTO are better places for negotiating global IP standards.

He observed that ACTA conflates approaches to tangible and non-tangible goods, which is rather like confusing “apples and pears”.

He added that ACTA is being pushed by proponents as a serious means to reduce IP infringement, yet is also billed by them as having no legislative effect in the EU. Both cannot be true.

Furthermore, much of the change expected from ACTA seems to be about practice by customs and by ISPs, and Martin said that he felt that this did not need a treaty to achieve these results.

He recognised that Trade Mark violations for drugs could pull in legitimate trade into border disputes and cause problems for access to medicines; and also that deliberately similar trade marks are used between competing generic drugs purely to help correct usage. Simply put, a doctor or nurse needs to understand that the two drugs are the same, and similar names helps make sure of this.

Martin also said that he recognises the concerns around ISPs being pushed into a policing role.

Overall, he said that he felt that the overall effect of ACTA was on the “direction of travel” and in creating “mood music” rather than substance, although ACTA suffers also from a lack of detail which makes it hard to know the real consequences.

He said some of the decisions needed should be democratically debated, rather than decided by treaty, for instance around ISPs roles, which he felt might need to change.

Some of the rights holders at the meeting made the point that a defeat to ACTA would “embolden” the “anti-IP” lobby, especially after SOPA and PIPA. They claimed that a defeat for ACTA might endanger more reasonable proposals in the future.

Such a claim is audacious and extraordinary. For a lobby to substantially write a treaty; to misjudge the societal impacts and political consequences of the agenda that ACTA, SOPA / PIPA and the DEAct promote; and then to say the answer is to press on regardless is deeply irresponsible.

As your grandmother probably used to tell you: when in a hole, stop digging.

But the IP lobby’s keep digging approach shows how how fixed their views are, and how hard they will fight to cling to their strategy.

The final EU Parliamentary vote is likely to be very close, and take place in June or July. There are demonstrations planned across Europe on 9 June. Make sure your views are heard!