* EU Commission refers global copyright deal to top court
* European Parliament gets ready to vote on deal
By Claire Davenport
BRUSSELS, April 4 Europe's top court will
determine whether a global trade agreement on copyright theft
breaches citizens' fundamental rights including the freedom of
expression, the European Commission said on Wednesday.
The European Union executive said it had referred the
Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which is designed to
tackle intellectual property theft, to the European Court of
Justice for evaluation in response to concerns it could damage
people's basic rights.
Its decision may complicate and delay the pact's entry into
force across the EU. It is backed by the United States and
others but many countries in the EU have yet to adopt it.
"The Commission aims to respond to the wide-ranging concerns
voiced by people across Europe on what ACTA is about and whether
it harms fundamental rights in any way," the EU executive said
in a statement.
Karel de Gucht, the EU commissioner for Trade, said the
referral would allow the court to independently clarify the
legality of the agreement.
"Considering that tens of thousands of people have voiced
their concerns about ACTA, it is appropriate to give our highest
independent judicial body the time to deliver its legal opinion
on this agreement. This is an important input to European public
and democratic debate," he said.
The Luxembourg-based court can take months before it issues
opinions in such cases.
The pact aims to reduce intellectual property theft by
imposing penalties for actions such as the use of counterfeit
trademarks and large-scale digital file-sharing of anything from
pirated software to music.
Some European politicians and campaigners fear that the
agreement will allow the authorities to cut internet access for
However supporters of the agreement, such as the European
Commission, dispute this, insisting that it would only punish
copyright crimes of a commercial scale.
The European Parliament, which has been sceptical about the
agreement and whose backing is required for it to become law in
the EU, is expected to vote on the issue in May.
The Commission, which originally negotiated the agreement
with countries including Canada, Australia and the United
States, has asked parliamentarians to postpone their vote until
the court has made its decision.
But David Martin, a Scottish Labour parliamentarian who is
leading discussions in the legislature, said it intended to
stick to a scheduled vote on May 29.
Members of the parliament voted against referring the trade
agreement to the EU's court.
"We are politically against referring ACTA to the court,
because we think that it should be rejected immediately", said
Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German lawmaker with the Green party.