In a major victory for Internet freedom activists, the European parliament on Wednesday placed the ratification of a controversial copyright treaty on hold and asked the European Court of Justice to rule on whether the provisions align with the European Union's "fundamental rights and freedoms."

The announcement came following publication of a letter written by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, beseeching E.U. leaders to abandon the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Act (ACTA).

Tusk was previously a strong supporter of the treaty, but weeks of demonstrations in Poland and across Europe convinced him to withdraw support. Although Poland has already signed the treaty, Tusk said the nation will not pursue full ratification.

Although ACTA has been ratified by 22 E.U. member states, along with Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore, a number of very important nations have begun to question the logic of importing American copyright standards.

Germany, Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have emerged as leaders of Europe's ACTA opposition. The European parliament's announcement on Wednesday seems to indicate that the E.U.'s trade chief, Karel De Gucht, has now joined them.

Crafted in the U.S., ACTA was signed by President Barack Obama without Congressional approval because the administration deemed it to be an "executive agreement" that exports U.S. copyright law and does not alter current statutes. Other nations are treating ACTA as a proper treaty, meaning the process of adoption is much more complicated.

Proponents of the global treaty say it will lower barriers for trans-national copyright enforcement, making illegal downloads and counterfeit goods easier to block -- which would theoretically result in much more money for people in the creative industries.

Opponents argue that provisions in the agreement would make Internet service providers responsible for their users' activities, which could lead to massive surveillance systems and Internet blacklists being implemented to reduce the network owners' liability risk.

While the E.U. may be hedging its bets on ACTA, the pending court ruling will not prevent any additional states from ratifying the treaty on their own, which the U.S. has strongly encouraged them to do through its trade policies. The announcement Wednesday will, however, significantly delay an E.U. parliament vote on the treaty, which was originally scheduled for June.

Photo: Flickr user justusbluemer.