ACTA: you won! What’s next?

 
 

Last weeks’ 4th of July will remain remembered in the history of science and technology, and intellectual property rights and democratic actions – celebrating two big events. Higgs boson’s event at CERN was the trending topic in media internationally:  the LHC has discovered a new particle. Also, the European Parliament resoundingly voted against ACTA, the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The vote to reject a delay of the final ACTA was 478 against, 39 in favour, with 165 abstentions. The persistence of millions activists has paid off.

MEPs from the Greens/EFA group hold up a sign saying "Hello Democracy, Goodbye ACTA"

This is a major victory for civil society, Internet freedom, access to medicine and knowledge, and innovative companies, as Ante Wessels, analyst, Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), writes: “ Before people had computers, it took an effort to infringe copyright. One had to make a physical copy. Since people have computers, infringement is often just one mouse click away. Criminalizing whole societies is not the solution. It is essential that societies retain the policy space to find proportional solutions. As an awareness project, ACTA is a big success. More and more people realize that maximizing profits at the expense of access to knowledge and space to innovate is wrong. The world deserves better solutions.”

Statement by MEP David Martin’s blog indicates that the Treaty was too vague and was open to misinterpretation, quote: “This is a historic day in terms of European politics. For the first time the European Parliament has used the powers granted by the Lisbon Treaty to reject an International Trade Agreement. The Commission and the Council will now be aware that they cannot overrun the Parliament, which represents and defends citizens’ rights. This vote represents true democracy in action and the coming of age of the European Parliament. I regret the fact that the EPP (the Conservative Grouping in the European Parliament) has consistently disregarded people’s concerns and the advice of the Parliament on ACTA’s challenge to fundamental rights. They tried to bring secrecy and delay to this vote until the very last minute. Fortunately we were able to build a strong majority and defeated their call for a postponement.

Now it is time to look forward and tell the Commission that we are willing to work hand in hand to fight counterfeiting wherever we find it. This time the Commission must act with public opinion and put aside copyright issues. They can be dealt with separately and at a later date and after further consultation.

ACTA was wrong from the start. It was negotiated in secret, and tries to put together incomparable elements in the same Treaty; incompatible elements such as counterfeit goods and on-line copyright.

On top of that, the lack of clarity sparked fears among internet users and many experts alerted us to the risks for fundamental rights – we listened and acted accordingly.”

 Simon Phipps, computer industry veteran, writes: “The problem with ACTA is not – has never been – the sections that deal with making the world safe from the evils of organised criminal counterfeiting. It’s that those genuine concerns have been harnessed by other interests to shape other, unrelated markets in their favour. The phrase “intellectual property” shares a significant part of the blame here. By disguising the differences in intent and applicability of patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets under a seductively appealing phrase, it was possible for companies in the media, content and software industries to harness the well-founded outrage of people like Bill Newton Dunn in manufacturing-based industries and have them drive forward measures which, if implemented, would have set the baseline for future legislation and regulation of the Internet firmly in the worldview of the 20th century.

By adjusting the definitions and hiding behind “intellectual property”, the warriors of public safety and industrial justice were parasitised to do the business of the enemies of popular culture.” And concludes: “The European Parliament needs to get to work on an effective and respectful digital Pnyx before then, so we can all be heard instead of being classified as a single interest group and bracketed with the pirates. We are not an “interest group” – we are the people.”

What comes next for Australia?

Australia and Switzerland has already rejected it in practice.  Australia signed the treaty, but it hasn’t ratified it yet. The Australian Parliament’s “Joint Standing Committee on Treaties” is now recommending that Australia reject ACTA as well.

“The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has thoroughly examined the text, the arguments and the positions taken by other governments and sees the writing on the wall; there appears a very real possibility that ACTA will not be ratified by sufficient countries in order to come into existence,” said Senator Ludlam.

“The Greens would welcome ACTA being ruled out completely because the content of this treaty is fatally flawed and the process that brought it about was shamefully and unnecessarily secretive. While our government did hold consultations they were farcical because those being consulted did not have the secret text and therefore couldn’t provide advice and feedback.

“Australia’s parliamentary committee is not alone in its detailed criticism of this Agreement. No less than five European Parliament Committees have recommended it be rejected. Several EU countries have suspended consideration until further notice and the Dutch Lower house has recommended its rejection outright. Hundreds of thousands of people have come out in demonstrations against ACTA throughout Europe and the United States.”

 The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties expressed its worry last month that if Australia isn’t careful, ZDnet reports, it could end up chained to an agreement that minor nations are party to, but not major powers like Europe.

“If this is the future of copyright and IP [intellectual property] regulation, then potential parties to the treaty, like the EU, will, after consideration, ratify this treaty. However, copyright and IP holders in Australia will not be best served if the treaty is ratified by Australia and a handful of others, but is not compatible with the copyright and IP regimes applicable in major creative centres as the United States and Europe.”

Finally, technology analyst, Glyn Moody, suggests, that “if you want to make another gesture, you could do worse than signing up to the Declaration of Internet Freedom, as I have. Here are the main principles:

We support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy and the establishment of five basic principles:

Expression: Don’t censor the Internet.

Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks.

Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate.

Innovation: Protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don’t block new technologies, and don’t punish innovators for their users’ actions.

Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used.

Part of the point of this is to start a discussion around what Internet freedom means, and how it can be defended”, Moody concludes and we agree, that “yesterday’s victory was a wonderful moment that we should savour and be proud of, but we really need to make it the start of something new and positive, not just the end of something old and negative.”

Image source.

Danica is an internet researcher, consultant and speaker on social media and digital inclusion. Her academic research is rooted in her own practical experiences breaking down digital walls in central European society. She is Tech, and Research editor for Australian Science. Read more of her work at her blog, and follow her on twitter @DanicaR.

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