Saturday, 9 June 2012

ACTA Protests: Where Were You Today?

This afternoon I went to the ACTA protests in Manchester to show my support for those of us who aren't too apathetic to let our freedoms slip away. I've been political since SOPA. Before that, I didn't really give a rat's about anything that didn't directly affect me. But ACTA would affect me. That's why I braved the rain with the other intrepid protestors. This is what happened.

Honestly, I was late, so when I arrived at the Queen Victoria statue in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester ("You can't miss it," said Kat in her Facebook Event entry, "big ugly thing covered in bird poo."), I saw no protesters. It didn't help that it was a miserable, drizzly day.

Long live the revolution! (unless it's raining, apparently)

I walked around aimlessly, then it occurred to me that the others might be sheltering at the cafe block near the bus station, so I wandered over and saw some people hanging a banner on the wall. They were the Justice 4 Grainger activists, who were setting up a table to hand out leaflets and get a petition signed. I signed it and asked them if they'd seen any anti-ACTA protesters. "They've gone down Market Street," said a friendly lady, who pointed me in the right direction.

The smart thing to do in a case like this is to look for the distinctive Guy Fawkes masks. Anonymous are very political and not all of them are trouble-makers bent on causing mayhem. They tend to join in with anything against internet censorship and ACTA is one of those things. I quickly found them and was introduced to each of the five or so people who had come, a far cry from the 81 who had said they would.

Kat and the others had decided that the few of them who had come (it was hard to get an accurate figure since people kept coming over and walking away) were not enough to get a rally going so they decided to hand out the leaflets, some of which they had designed themselves, instead. Market Street was busy with a Bible-thumper preaching into a loudhailer and some street musicians, each of whom was vying with the other for the attention of the drizzle-spattered shoppers hurrying by. It fell to me to point out that the preacher had some people with him who were handing out leaflets of their own and we didn't want to be confused with them. The musician had his amp up too loud so people were moving quickly to get away from the racket he was making. Pickings were easier near Debenhams, where there wasn't so much noise.

The message

It wasn't just about handing out leaflets. We had to get the message across and without a crowd to "seed" the public in order to draw people in to listen to someone on a soap box, we had to go out and talk to individuals. It's not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes people would speed up and practically run past to avoid us, but when we were able to stop someone, the conversations were enlightening.

I spoke to one woman who worked in a school for special needs kids. She told me about her Jewish neighbour who had escaped the Nazis as a kid, only to find the same pre-fascist restrictions building up over here in the last few years. But they're not after Jews, Gypsies, and non-Aryans this time; it's file-sharers they want. Although they're not planning to gas infringers, our government wants to watch what we do online and cut us off from the internet if we fall foul of the Digital Economy Act, which contains the three strikes provision that was struck from ACTA. It doesn't sound too bad if you don't use the internet but I'm a web designer. And the DEA strikes begin when you're accused. It'll cost you twenty quid to get any accusations investigated so you're treated as guilty until proven innocent. It's got to go.

Other people were more interested in the threat to generic drugs (the idea that the big pharmaceuticals won't go after them when they're already trying to get evergreening into TPP is ridiculous. If that gets into any trade agreement and ACTA is passed, the unelected, unaccountable committee will surely add it in), particularly when I explained that I have arthritis and how it would affect me. Prescription charges would rocket to compensate for the license fees, which would then be payable to the NHS for all its drugs. It's a massive user of generics. If generics go, so does the NHS. It costs enough to run as it is.

When we ran out of leaflets, it was time to get on with the shopping and the usual petty chores we do on Saturdays. It might have seemed like a damp squib, but I think we may have won a few hearts and minds today, and if we did, job done.

Other cities

Birmingham went well, by all accounts. One chap hopped into their event page to say, "I was the one with the sunburst flag."

I do have news for Bristol, though: "I went to bristol, couldn't find anyone, walked around for an hour or so, came home, disappointing..." Again, the link to their events page isn't working.

Cardiff's David Jenkins reports that they had a good day, and got some leaflets handed out. They must have had a better turnout because they had a banner. The police confiscated it on obscenity grounds or something. I'm sure the decent weather helped.

The Bournemouth event link is dead.

Chelmsford had a few people commit to go, but there are no updates on their page.

Glasgow had a very small turnout and the event fizzled out. Some "went around on their own" so I assume they went leafleting.

It's hard to know if anything happened in Liverpool because their page has been removed.

London set the pace and was a fantastic example of how it's done. See the pictures here. There are videos of Loz Kaye (he's pretty good with a megaphone) and some others speaking, and the good weather made people more receptive to their message.

Peterborough has no updates on their page and I assume it's safe to say that nothing happened.

Read more about it on the main Anti-ACTA and the Digital Economy Act March Facebook event page.


Digital rights blog EDRI reports great turnouts throughout Europe.

Coming soon

The International Trade Committee (INTA) of the European Parliament is mainly in charge of the dossier. The rapporteur, MEP David Martin, has already recommended that ACTA be rejected. Pirate Party member Amelia Andersdotter MEP is on that committee. She has already built a reputation as someone to be listened to, so it's looking good. However, Sir Graham Walker MEP has told me that the Conservatives are the biggest hurdle. Since Labour is also "committed to expanding copyright" according to Arlene McCarthy MEP, they are also a problem. Their vote takes place on 20 - 21 June, then the Parliamentary plenary vote will be taken on 3rd July.

It ain't over till we see the lobbyists cry. Keep an eye on the Internet Freedom Movement's page on Google Plus and on Rick Falkvinge's blog for the mailing list he's going to provide so we can contact the MEPs and tell them why ACTA is bad. The message will have to appeal to the Conservatives' corporate agenda by explaining that putting the population under surveillance, the only practical way to "prevent infringement," per the treaty, is a costly burden on the state that will require massive tax rises to accommodate while revenues will decrease as a result of the job losses to stagnation among patent holders who aren't obliged to compete in a free market. Slip in some information on patent trolling and the harm that does to European and partner nation jobs. This will result in social unrest and even more people on an over-burdened welfare state.

Labour tends to at least pretend to side with the people so we need to explain how to make a living sans IPR rents and that the counterfeits they think ACTA can save us from are already dealt with under trades description and the health and safety laws we have already. ACTA is the wrong tool for the job they believe it will do.  A more nuanced (and brief) rebuttal to each point each party makes in favour of ACTA must be put together to ensure that they listen to us. Watch this space.

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