In the wake of global protests, the European Commission has asked the EU's highest court to rule on the legality of the controversial anti-piracy treaty known as ACTA.
EU trade chief Karel De Gucht said:
"This morning, my fellow commissioners have discussed and agreed in general with my proposal to refer the ACTA agreement to the European Court of Justice," said EU trade chief Karel De Gucht, referring to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
"We are planning to ask Europe's highest court to assess ACTA's compatibility with the EU's fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression and information or that of protection."
The BBC reports that 22 EU states have already signed the treaty:
However, several key countries, including Germany and Denmark, have backed away from the treaty amid protests in several European cities.
Acta is set to be debated by the European Parliament in June.
While countries can individually ratify the terms of the agreement, EU backing is considered vital if the proposal's aim of implementing consistent standards for copyright enforcement measures is met.
Europe has seen thousands of protesters in the streets rallying against ACTA, which many see as a path toward internet censorship. The outcry prompted Germany, Poland and Bulgaria to take steps to delay or reject ACTA.
Wired UK writes that both the secrecy of the creation of the treaty as well as its potential censorship have sparked protests:
Acta, or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, is an international treaty that was negotiated in secret over the span of four years. While the provisions are currently public, their genesis was hidden from democratic scrutiny, and most nations signed on to Acta without any chance for their citizenry to review or comment on the process. Beyond its undemocratic origins, it's often unclear how Acta's requirements would be implemented, or could be implemented without creating a technical architecture online that restricts speech. For instance, Acta's harsh DMCA-like provisions against anti-circumvention could effectively render some free software, which by its nature can't support DRM, illegal in the Western world.
Many in Europe, and especially the former Soviet-controlled countries like Poland, are sensitive to anything that smacks of censorship. Activists in places like Poland and Germany saw the specter of authoritarian control in both the secretive imposition of Acta and in the possible consequences of its technical provisions. The American architects of Acta, not having had the recent experience of oppression, seem to have often been tone-deaf to the European fears.
Anonymous has also joined protests against ACTA last week, taking down several US government websites, including the US Federal Trade Commission, replacing their content with a message demanding that major countries kill ACTA.