Tens of thousands of people marched in coordinated protests in more than a dozen European cities Saturday against a controversial anti-online piracy trader agreement that could limit Internet freedom. Significant marches were held in Germany, Poland and the Netherlands against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA.
So What exactly is ACTA? The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is an international treaty negotiated between the 27-nation European Union and 10 other countries by unelected bureaucrats aiming to standardize copyright protection measures. It seeks to curb trade of counterfeited physical goods, including copyrighted material on the internet. Possible punishments for violation include possible imprisonment and fines.
In late January, 22 EU member states and the European Commission signed ACTA, joining Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the US. However, not one of these signatories has ratified ACTA yet — a necessary step if it is to be viable. It has yet to be ratified by the European Parliament. A debate is due to take place in June. Governments of eight nations including Japan and the United Stated signed an agreement in October aiming to cut copyright and trademark theft. The signing was hailed as a step toward bringing ACTA into effect.
Critics argue that it will stifle freedom of expression on the internet, and it has been likened to the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA. Opposition to ACTA is especially strong and spreading rapidly in Eastern Europe. Protesters have compared it to the Big Brother-style surveillance used by former Communist regimes.
Supporters of the treaty argue that the measures are necessary to clamp down on growing levels of piracy.
Opposition is already taking its toll on the pact as Germany announced it was delaying signing anti-piracy agreement. A German foreign ministry spokesperson told AFP that the delay was to “give us time to carry out further discussions”.
There are some other opposition developments as well. Some European countries that did sign are trying to pull back amidst public anger, at least for now. Poland was the first to pull back with an announcement last Friday, joined by the Czech Republic and, as of Wednesday, Latvia. Slovakia, which has not signed, has also called a temporary halt to ACTA’s progress there, pending further consultations.
Check out Michael Foley’s excellent explanation of ACTA here.