A strong majority of MEPs (663 against and 13 in favour) today voted against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), arguing that it flouts agreed EU laws on counterfeiting and piracy online.
In addition, the Parliament's decision today states that MEPs will go to the Court of Justice if the EU does not reject ACTA rules, including cutting off users from the Internet "gradually" if caught stealing content.
Though MEPs cannot participate in the ACTA talks, without the consent of the European Parliament, EU negotiators will have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a compromise.
Four MEPs from across national and party lines - Alexander Alvaro, Stavros Lambrinidis, Zuzana Roithova and Françoise Castex, dubbed the four ACTA musketeers - have launched a petition against the agreement, which has collected 31 signatures so far.
NGOs, academics and trade bodies that have studied leaks from the trade talks say the agreement would pave the way for network providers to introduce "US-style draconian" ways to penalise piracy.
ACTA leaks have shown that the agreement would not introduce a so-called 'three strikes' rule – cutting off users from networks after three attempts at piracy – but would allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to introduce other measures, provided the consumer is informed of the penalties in the contract, argues La Quadrature du Net.
EuroISPA, the Brussels trade body for network providers, says that recent leaks from the European Council indicate the EU is considering US proposals on combating piracy which include "criminal sanctions, US-style notice and take-down and monitoring of a user's Internet traffic and services".
Though EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht reassured MEPs at a debate yesterday that the EU was not considering all of the measures in the ACTA text, EuroISPA argues this contradicts the most recent leaks coming from the EU and the US.
"The Commission has provided no reassurance that it will not introduce the penalties outlined in the ACTA leaks," Andrea d'Inneco from EuroISPA told EurActiv.
Commission officials participating in the talks have signed a non-disclosure agreement and have been reluctant to divulge much information from the talks.
A high-ranking official told EurActiv that rumours saying ACTA would rewrite rules on the liability of Internet service providers for pirated content on their networks were untrue.
EU rules, which were agreed upon after lengthy negotiations last year, say that ISPs are mere conduits of information and are not liable for pirated content if they take measures to remove that content, the official explained.
The Commission official said this would still be the pretext of EU law and that ACTA would not alter the European safeguards.