Meanwhile In Poland…
If you were to find yourself in Warsaw last week, you might have thought you stumbled onto the set of a V for Vendetta sequel.
The crowds of people donning Guy Fawkes masks were actually protesting the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA); an international trade agreement which seeks to create uniform standards for enforcing intellectual property rights. Its purpose ranges from combating counterfeit goods and pharmaceuticals to copyrighted material on the internet. In October 2010, Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea signed the treaty. This was followed by signatures from representatives of 22 Member States of the European Union in January 2011. ACTA now awaits ratification by the European Parliament later this year.
Protestors have legitimate privacy concerns regarding ACTA. Essentially, the agreement would hold Internet Service Providers (ISPs) liable for copyright infringements on behalf of their users. In turn, this would incentivize ISPs to censor any material that might potentially infringe on copyrights, effectively blocking those websites from its users, and monitor everything their users do online to avoid liability for infringement. Opponents of ACTA paint a picture of a bleak Orwellian future, where governments work internationally with ISPs turning them into ‘Big Brother,’ constantly watching every new webpage we load, every email we read and every file we download.
On January 24th, all across Poland disconcerted masses took to the streets. Some estimate that as many as 20,000 people were out marching to fight governmental censorship of the internet. Even days before the protest, people let their opposition of ACTA in Poland be known, hacking into and taking down several governmental websites, including Prime Minster Donald Tusk’s. The people of Poland don’t stand alone however. Kader Arif, the former European Parliament’s rapporteur for ACTA, resigned after Poland and 21 other countries in the EU signed ACTA. For a man who was in such close proximity to the workings of the trade agreement, Arif had some powerful words following his resignation in a statement posted on his website:
“I wish to denounce as the greatest of all the process that led to the signing of this agreement: no association of civil society, lack of transparency from the beginning of negotiations… As rapporteur on this text, I also faced unprecedented maneuvers of the right of Parliament to impose an accelerated schedule to pass the agreement as soon as possible before the public is alerted, depriving in fact the European Parliament’s right of expression and the tools at its disposal to carry the legitimate demands of citizens… I would send a strong signal and alert the public about this unacceptable situation. I will not participate in this charade.”
Protestors in Poland have their share of supporters in the Polish parliament as well. Members of Poland’s Palikot’s Movement party sat in solidarity with protestors by donning Guy Fawkes masks, a recognized international symbol of protest against tyrannical governments.
Opponents of ACTA are not just limited to politicians abroad. Darrell Issa, a republican U.S. Representative from California is attempting to raise awareness of ACTA here in the states, claiming it to be far more dangerous than the Stop Online Piracy Act. “As a member of Congress, it’s more dangerous than SOPA. It’s not coming to me for a vote. It purports that it does not change existing laws. But once implemented, it creates a whole new enforcement system and will virtually tie the hands of Congress to undo it.”
Obviously, ACTA has its supporters as well, especially from major entertainment companies as well as specialized groups such as ZAiKS, a Polish group consisting of authors and supporters. They claim that the purpose of ACTA is not to suppress information but to protect the rights of the original copyright holders. Further, they believe that internet piracy, which has becoming increasingly rampant over the past few years, denies them and limitless other artists across the world billions of dollars in revenue a year. Proponents of ACTA also go on to refute allegations that the agreement was compiled in secret and claim that public information regarding the agreement was available as early as October of 2007.
Needless to say, if you thought SOPA and PIPA were the end of the battle, their postponement has only diverted the public’s attention to a potentially far greater global censorship threat. Consequently, as of February 3rd, the ratification of ACTA has also been put on hold.