ACTA protests in Poland and Europe

by michal frackowiak on 03 Feb 2012 10:05

Over the last few weeks there has been an enormous wave of protests against the ACTA pact (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) in Poland. ACTA itself is supposed to be an international agreement to establish laws and standards for intellectual property protection. Think of ACTA as an international successor of DMCA.

Although DMCA itself has been criticized since its introduction in 1998 and has been abused numerous times (see "notice and takedown" criticism), it just works. But nobody is really happy about it: copyright holders claim it is still to difficult to take down stolen (= published against the license) content, and internet users feel the law limits their freedom of speech. The only group that should be happy with DMCA are internet and service providers (ISPs), which are not a subject to copyright law enforcement — provided they do follow the DMCA regulations and procedures.

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One of many protests against ACTA in Warsaw.

Now ACTA is supposed to expand DMCA mechanisms world-wide, but in a quite awkward and controversial way. How bad is ACTA? Let us just say that in March 2010 EU adopted a resolution containing numerous objections against ACTA at the time, regarding freedom rights, privacy issues, secrecy of negotiations while creating ACTA and other legal aspects. Some of them still hold.

According to many, ACTA in the current form not only might limit freedom of speech in the Internet, giving ISPs and copyright owners the right to selectively block content even without much justification. Moreover, ACTA pressures ISPs to preemptively censor online communication. Besides, ACTA introduces "jurisdiction" and right enforcement outside of national law.

Poland announced its intentions to sign the treaty on 18 January. Since then, massive protests flooded the whole Poland. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in major cities, major websites announced their position against ACTA regulations. In our town, Toruń (population 205k) about 3 thousand people joined the protest (including half of the Wikidot team), hoping for some dialog and at least postponing the decision.

Three things are remarkable to me:

1. there were no protests on that scale in any other country signing ACTA,
2. it is the largest wave of protests in Poland since 1981 (fall of communism),
3. protests seem to spread.

Protests are not about defending the "right" to download pirated content as some try to describe them. Protesters raise valid objections against ACTA, privacy issues, legal consequences. ACTA is broken in several ways. This is not surprising — ACTA has been designed to protect the music and movie industry in the first place, not freedom nor interests of individuals.

Could ACTA alone gather so many people together? Probably not. To understand this phenomena one need to understand there is another reason and another target of the protests in Poland: the government. Six years ago the voters gave an enormous credit of trust to the now-ruling party, and this trust, according to many, has been lost, especially among younger voters. Economical crisis, although not that visible as in Greece or Spain, affects many areas of public life. Increasing gas prices, high unemployment rate among younger people… This all adds up, and ACTA and total lack of communication was the last straw.

Has the democracy failed us? Yes and no.

Many politicians (but not the government) that previously voted in favor of ACTA changed their mind thanks to the protest. A nation-wide discussion has spread like a virus, including TV shows, internet fora and even pubs. ACTA became the number-one topic for a while. What's more, protests started to emerge in other EU countries and world-wide.

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Polish representatives protest against ACTA in the parliament.

But despite the movement and controversy, our government decided to sign ACTA. Shame on them, since we have chosen them to represent us in democratic election. In this sense, democracy failed. Would it be really that difficult to postpone singing ACTA given the controversy? Sure we are at least a year before any legal work starts to make our national legal system compatible with ACTA. Let us just hope the next decisions by the government will be widely consulted. But the lost trust is hard to get back.

If the country you live in is about to sign (or has already signed) ACTA, we encourage you to take a look at this agreement (or research the web) and see if you are comfortable with solutions it proposes. If not, I believe there are multiple ways of expressing your opinion about it.

BTW: One of the popular polish sites (run by our friend Borys Musielak) devoted to censorship in the Internet, stopcenzurze.eu, is hosted and supported by Wikidot!

UPDATE: Just today our prime minister Donald Tusk announced that ACTA ratification process will be "suspended" until all issues are cleared in a public dialog. Indeed, this is a win despite the fact that the ratification has been already signed in Tokyo. Late, but not too late. Democracy however is saved… At least for now.

Photo by Centrum Informacji Anarchistycznej available under CC-BY 2.5.

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