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Momentum Builds in Europe Against Controversial Treaty on Copyright, Counterfeiting

BY Antonella Napolitano | Monday, February 13 2012

Anti-ACTA protest in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo:Stopped / Flickr

Last Saturday, thousands of people rallied all over Europe to protest against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a controversial treaty that would set new international standards for dealing with copyright infringement and other copyright claims.

Disapproval over the treaty comes as much from how it was written as from what's in it. During ACTA's formative stages, negotiators drafted the bill in secret but passed draft copies to major corporations like Google, News Corporation, and Verizon. Meanwhile, Internet activists say the agreement does citizens a disservice by addressing online piracy in the same agreement as counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and that establishing online "border controls" threatens to Balkanize the Internet, limiting the free flow of information. Supporters of ACTA say it's a much-needed upgrade to international copyright controls, and frame people who advocate for a "free Internet" as really meaning that on the Internet, everything — including copyrighted material — should be free.

According to Reuters, protests happened in more than 200 cities, particularly in Western Europe (with a particular concentration of 4,000 people in Sofia, Bulgaria) and Germany, when more than 25,000 people gathered in cities throughout the country.

Protests in Germany were particularly significant, considering that last Friday the German government declared that it won't sign the treaty for now and will wait for a public debate.

"Today was a clear message to politicians and the EU Parliament. This is the message of the protest: it's time to reform copyright law, we will not accept further cementing with wrong policies as ACTA. " wrote German prominent Internet activist Markus Beckedahl on his blog Netzpolitik.

"This movement has been very decentralized from the start. While there have been some coordinated talks and discussions between civil society groups internationally, it is mostly a decentralized grassroots movement that grew up even without any coordinated action." wrote me EFF's Maira Sutton in an email interview, earlier this month.

While there are some more visible Internet freedom organizations engaged in the public debate (such as the French La Quadrature du Net, the European Digital Rights, the Electronic Frontier Foundation), the movement has been spreading information on the treaty and organizing action in many ways, from streets protests (started two weeks ago in Poland) to an Avaaz petition that has been signed by over two million people in less than three weeks. Saturday's protests were also joined by global organizations, including Amnesty International.

What's next for ACTA?
Starting in March, the European Parliament will discuss the treaty in several committees. A final vote is expected by mid-June. Parliament, though, can only approve it or reject it, but cannot modify the text.

EurActiv notes that the European Commission has published a factsheet on ACTA, countering the main critiques of the treaty, especially on the secrecy of negotiations.

It seems that ACTA won't have an easy path even inside the Parliament: according to the AP, newly appointed European Parliament President Martin Schulz told Germany’s ARD television yesterday that he does not find the treaty good in its current form, and "the necessary balance between copyright protection and the individual rights of Internet users is only very inadequately anchored in this agreement."

According to the Stop Acta Wiki, which has been a central hub of information on the protest, other rallies are planned next February 25th.