Anti-ACTA protests hit high gear across EU

By Pat Pilcher


Protests against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) have kicked into high gear with massive demonstrations across four continents.

Protests are being held in over 200 European cities with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to express their disgust at the European Parliament ratifying ACTA.

The protests follow hot on the heels of the European Union officially signing the "anti-piracy" trade agreement ACTA in January, following in the footsteps of New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, Singapore and the US.

Whilst ACTA may have been signed in the EU, member states and the European Parliament have yet to ratify the treaty.

Hundreds of thousands of people across the world have taken to the streets with more expected to do their part online in order to prevent this from happening.

Of the protests being held across the EU, the largest protests to date have happened in Bulgaria, where an estimated 50,000 people took part.

"We see the suspension of ratification as a victory, but we cannot over-estimate it," said the vice-president of the Czech Republic's pirate party, Mikulas Ferjencik.

"We want ACTA to be stopped completely," he added.

In Sofia, more than 3,000 demonstrators marched along major downtown boulevards, booing at the buildings of government and parliament.

Shouting "No to ACTA!" and "Mafia!", they accused the government of signing the agreement secretly and without consulting the public.

In Tallinn, where about 1,500 turned out, lawmakers widened their criticism of ACTA to an attack on the country's leadership.

"Estonia's PM Ansip has often demonstrated that government decisions in Estonia are born somewhere in hidden cellars," charged lawmaker Juku-Kalle Raid, whose party governs with Andrus Ansip's Reform Party.

"The current case with ACTA only indicated that once again a decision was to be made without discussion with the people," added the lawmaker.

The European Commission meanwhile published a document detailing the negotiation process of the pact, as it sought to defend itself against accusations of opacity.

"The EU strongly denies having provided any kind of preferential access to information to any group of stakeholders," it said.

"There are also no secret protocols to the agreement and the final text is fully public and available to all citizens on the website of the European Commission," it added.

ACTA was signed last year in Tokyo, and aims to bolster international standards for intellectual property protection, for example by doing more to fight counterfeit medicine and other goods.

But its attempt to attack illegal downloading and internet file-sharing has sparked charges that it compromises online freedom.

"I am here because I am against censorship on the internet, against the attempts to limit the freedom of information and against corporate interests which trample on human rights," Maya Nikolova, 27, told AFP in Sofia.

Many Bulgarian musicians were also among the crowd, claiming that they rarely get copyright royalties anyway but were ready to sacrifice whatever little they do earn for the sake of internet freedom.

One of the Vilnius rally organisers, Mantas Kondratavicius, told AFP: "Some provisions of the treaty are too ambiguous and allow different interpretations."

"If ACTA is approved, the understanding of human rights and privacy would change and there can be no way back," warned the 21-year-old.

"I don't deny that authors should be paid but that cannot be done at the expense of privacy or freedom of speech," he stressed.

Meanwhile, some on Facebook chose to protest through blood donations.

"Blood is a life-giving power, just as information and ideas are for the web. Join our symbolic way to show that sharing is not a crime but has vital importance," its organisers said.

Anti-ACTA sentiment is also strong within the EU parliament, who will vote on ratifying the agreement later this year. Several Members have already begun to urge fellow politicians not to let the copyright law go ahead.

Whilst ACTA mightn't be anything new, it has received a lot more attention off the back of SOPA/PIPA protests in the US.

Already the German Government has said it won't back ACTA, and the anti-ACTA protests, which started in Poland several weeks ago, are beginning to generate results, with Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic as well as Latvia all agreeing to put ACTA on hold.

If the sheer numbers involved in protests across the EU are anything to go by, there's a massive opposition against ACTA building and migrating from the digital realm to the streets where it may have a very real political impact.

- NZHERALD STAFF/AFP

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