If SOPA & PIPA Spawned The Anti-Christ, ACTA Would Certainly Be It
Written Saturday, January 28, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
The internet might have banded together to put the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) in its rightful place – on the shelf (for now) – but as we quite rightly pointed out last week, the battle has only just begun. This time it’s Europe’s turn with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which has been deceptively lobbied behind-closed-doors by the same bodies in the US that pushed SOPA & PIPA so aggressively. Just because you’re not European though doesn’t mean this shouldn’t concern you, oh no. According to ACTA, just about every “developed” nation – including the United States, Japan and Australia, amongst many more outside Europe – is about to feel the brunt of this deceptive and potentially global economy ruining and internet freedom destroying piece of legislation. It’s time to get our legal on… Again.
"10,000 Polish citizens took to the streets to protest ACTA."
So, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement… What the hell does this have to do with the internet? Absolutely everything in fact, and although it’s not as clear cut in name as SOPA & PIPA were, it’s essentially Europe’s version of those two proposed bills. Actually, it’s a much more severe piece of legislation with far wider-reaching implications that the music and film industries will use as a means to enforce their totalitarian stance on piracy. If there’s ever a wrong way to go about things, this is it. It’s like driving a tank over a crowd of innocent people just in the hope of squishing a few pirates on the other side.
So how does ACTA differ from SOPA and PIPA then? Well, that depends on where you start, but the implications are just as severe. The main crux of ACTA is that it puts a legal and monetary obligation on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to police every piece of information that travels through their service, effectively turning them into a pseudo internet police, of sorts. These ISPs will essentially monitor your activity online, gather evidence and such, and then “co-operate” with copyright holders to protect their IPs. None of this right to a fair trial malarkey or due process. Your future is basically in the hands of ISPs and copyright holders, none of which are part of the democratic process and will no doubt quell freedom of speech in the process.
ISPs, who are commercial companies, not elected bodies, would effectively become judge, jury and executioner online.
It’s essentially a bullying tool for two prongs of the entertainment industry – music and films – who’ve refused to move with the times and adapt. It’ll not only severely damage privacy issues by allowing ISPs to gather private data on their users – without the need of a judge – but it’ll also impose criminal sanctions on individuals who are found to be “aiding and abetting” copyright infringement. With loose terminology like that, websites like ourselves, Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube could become a target, meaning that freedom of speech and innovation would almost certainly be impaired as a result. How criminal sanctions have been drafted into a “trade agreement” is almost certainly cause for concern too. Copyright holders would almost certainly hold all the cards and they won’t be afraid to use them even for minor infractions and frivolous cases. Outside the restrictions it’d place on the internet too, the Agreement even rather ridiculously ventures further into cracking down on generic drugs and imposing stricter sanctions on food patents.
"French MEP, Kader Arif, made a defeaning statement this week."
The controversy surrounding ACTA is much more abhorrent than that of SOPA & PIPA. ACTA is a piece of legislation that’s been deceptively drafted behind-closed-doors, shrouded in mystery and constantly shielded from the public forum. It’s been that underhanded that French MEP and “rapporteur” – basically, the overseer – of the Agreement, Kader Arif, stood down this week in protest over how it’s been handled, calling it a “masquerade.”
“I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement,” said Arif, citing the following as reasons for his decision to step down: “no inclusion of civil society organisations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, exclusion of the EU Parliament's demands that were expressed on several occasions in our assembly.”
“As rapporteur of this text,” he continued, “I have faced never-before-seen manoeuvres from the right wing of this Parliament to impose a rushed calendar before public opinion could be alerted, thus depriving the Parliament of its right to expression and of the tools at its disposal to convey citizens' legitimate demands.”
In closing, Arif said, “This agreement might have major consequences on citizens' lives, and still, everything is being done to prevent the European Parliament from having its say in this matter. That is why today, as I release this report for which I was in charge, I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this masquerade.”
The fact that 10,000 people took to the streets of Poland to protest ACTA this week, while a delegation of lawmakers in the country’s Parliament donned V For Vendetta masks to show their disdain for it, yet it was still signed, shows that something must be awry.
"Polish lawmakers show their disdain for ACTA in government."
What’s the worse thing about ACTA though? Well, not only does ACTA grant the creation of an “ACTA committee,” but it then grants them the power to consider amendments to the Agreement. That, my learned friends, is an awful lot of power to grant a committee made up of non-elected individuals. If Europe wanted to wipe their arse with democracy and ruin the foundations of every Western government in the world, then ratifying ACTA is as close to doing that as they can possibly get. It’d give lawmakers and non-elected officials a dangerous backdoor into manipulating legislation without the necessary checks and balances required, let alone obtain input from the public who allow them to wield these powers. ACTA is the first step to becoming a police-state. ACTA is the first step on the road to becoming a dictatorship. ACTA is a big 'fuck you' to democracy. ACTA is not only going to ruin the internet, it’s going to set a dangerous precedent that could undermine the last 30 plus years of democratic progress.
Again, I’d like to reiterate that piracy and protecting the rights of copyright holders has nothing to do with our concerns with this latest piece of legislation. This however is about corporate control, censorship and secrecy. If the big corporations can bully and bribe the supposed democracies of this world, what hope do we have of living in a society where freedom of speech is paramount? Stopping piracy and protecting copyright holders rights is about balance, and if SOPA & PIPA was like killing a fly with a grenade, ACTA is like killing a single-cell organism with a nuclear bomb. Funded and lobbied by the archaic film and music industries – of which the MPAA’s corruption, for instance, has since become apparent since SOPA & PIPA were shelved – ACTA is a piece of legislation that could essentially send the world into the biggest depression its ever experienced; crippling the internet, stifling entrepreneurial growth and setting society back a good 20-odd years. The most ironic and profound thing to come out of all of this is that if the music and entertainment industries spent the time, money and effort they’ve spent on trying to buy themselves power and corrupt every democracy in the world, and actually tried to evolve their industry and move with the times, they and the world would be in a far better position. Instead, we’re all going to suffer for their lack of foresight unless we band together and constantly fight back.
As it stands, ACTA has been signed in Europe by varying Member States – those who have not signed it have agreed to in the near future – and by the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea, but it is yet to be ratified in Europe which is the clincher for the agreement, meaning it’s not too late to make your voice heard. Democracy isn’t dead yet and now’s the time to prove it.
So, what can you do? If you’re in the UK, you can sign an e-petition like this. Or if you’re in the US, you can sign this petition here, setup by the ECA (not, ESA). For more information on how to voice your opinions, check out La Quadrature’s Wiki page on the issue. The internet and freedom of speech has until June, when the final vote is made, to make your voices heard.