MEPs have rejected the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement by 478 votes to 39, the biggest ever legislative defeat in the European Parliament.

The result had been widely expected internationally and means that the agreement cannot become law in the European Union or any of its member states. The vote came after a last-ditch attempt by the European People's Party to have it delayed was shot down.

Digital civil liberties groups have hailed the result as a huge victory for citizens, following a concerted campaign to reject the anti-piracy agreement, which aims to enforce intellectual property rights.

ACTA was signed by the European Commission and 22 EU member states in January, but following widespread civil protests throughout Europe, many countries back-pedaled on their decision to sign. The major sticking point is the digital chapter, which protesters say leaves the door open for countries to force internet service providers to police their own customers.

ACTA rejected by the European Parliament

Parliamentarians were also angry that the deal was largely negotiated in secret and only came to light when an initial draft was released by Wikileaks in 2008. French member of the European Parliament, Kader Arif, responsible for assessing the agreement, resigned from his post in January calling the negotiations a masquerade.

And in April, Europe's top data privacy watchdog, the European Data Protection Supervisor, criticised the anti-piracy agreement, warning that it could lead to widespread monitoring of the internet and breaches of individuals' right to privacy.

As more and more pressure was piled upon Parliament to reject the deal, the European Commission, the body responsible for negotiating the agreement on behalf of the EU, asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for its opinion and urged the Parliament to wait for a ruling. This morning the European People's Party  called a vote on whether to delay a decision on ACTA until after the ECJ ruling, but were out-voted by their colleagues, 420 to 255.

Despite the rejection of the deal outright, the ECJ will still assess the question of whether or not it is compatible with EU law, but this is now an academic exercise.

The international agreement can only enter into force if ratified by six of the 11 signatories: the EU, Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, the US and Switzerland. However, Mexico has already rejected it and Australia and Switzerland look set to follow suit. Even Japan, where the deal was signed, is having second thoughts. Today's EU vote is likely to further strengthen their resolve to kick it out.

Photo © European Union 2012 - European Parliament