Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Cyberwars: ACTA And The Other Acronyms

It has occurred to me that few of us have taken the time to write a post to chronicle the story of ACTA from the beginning to its inglorious end. Wikipedia has the macro view that tells the overall story. I'm going to tell you how it was in the trenches, fighting the battles, going over the top, and finally winning. There's also the matter of the other laws and treaties we have to deal with...

ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, was a  plutilateral agreement for the purpose of establishing international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement. We killed it on July 4, 2012 in a final, crushing defeat that left MEPs and EU Commissioners wailing about "people on the internet" and our effect on their policies. This is what happened.

ACTA: the players and the chessboard

Developed by Japan and the United States in 2006, formal negotiations began in Geneva in 2008. The EU signed up to the treaty in January 2012, joining Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the US, who had done so in October 2011. The idea was to "harmonize" intellectual property rights law (by adopting American standards) and persuade our ISPs to spy on us to catch file-sharers, or "prevent infringement," as they preferred to call it. There was a three-strikes provision, but that was shifted to domestic laws after considerable opposition. US-enforced vagueness and European Commission failures to properly address the issues made it easy for us to garner support; nobody wanted to suffer the loss of generic drugs for themselves or others, the criminalization of civil offences and the possibility of further upward ratcheting.

The struggle

Christian Engström MEP says the Pirates did the legwork after Green Party MP Karl Sigfrid had written a motion about ACTA to the Swedish Parliament. It was then that he noticed the blog posts by other activists about the treaty. After his election as MEP, he persuaded the Green parliamentary group to hire activist Erik Josefsson as political secretary. They colluded with net activists, using mailing lists and the newly-started site, on collating and providing information about ACTA to the Green group and getting it on their policy agenda. The parliamentary campaign took off from there, with other parties getting on board along the way. They struggled to get the attention of the Liberals and Socialists, who had bought into the idea that the artists, etc., rely on the income provided by copyright licensing to make a living, but SOPA energised their support base when the blackouts caught everyone's attention. Protests began in Poland, then spread to other countries in Europe. It's important to note that there was misinformation on both sides. The trouble with getting the facts wrong is that, if proven, it weakens our position. It was imperative to get the facts straight so we could wield them effectively.

Goodbye ACTA, hello democracy

ACTA's last gasp

Our strong grasp of the facts gave us the edge over our adversaries: where they were vague and warned of unspecified threats if the nay-sayers won, we had facts that we could point to using the text of the treaty itself. In the end, the truth did as much as the campaign did to pull the treaty down. All the pro-ACTA forces had was a pack of lies.

The Social Democrats turned against ACTA when constituents got involved in campaigns to sign petitions and write to their MEPs. Then, in the European Pariamentary committee meetings, Amelia Andersdotter's opinion carried more weight in the JURI (Legal Affairs) committee than veteran maximalist Marielle Gallo's, a massive turnaround for the IPR specialist. She was so annoyed about it that she accused activists of "soft terrorism" after the plenary session. By the end of May it was inevitable that ACTA would collapse but since its supporters continued to battle for it right up till the last minute, we had to keep fighting. Near the end, two days before the plenary vote, Christofer Fjellner MEP of the EPP group called for a postponement pending a European Court of Justice review, but we emailed our MEPs and told them we wanted them to vote for this on the Wednesday and thankfully they agreed; ACTA was crushed in an historic 478-to-39 vote while we watched online. Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Pirate Party, started a campaign to send flowers to the MEPs who voted no. For the recipients, this was a career first!

Now what?

We've won the battles, but not the war. SOPA/PIPA, and CISPA have been soundly beaten and the Cybersecurity Act 2012 has died the death of a thousand cuts. A recent Australian data retention proposal has collapsed. The US and UK governments and the European Commission have launched public consultations on intellectual property law reform.

The Internet Freedom Movement works alongside other digital rights activists, including the Pirate Party, to support them by raising awareness and calling for support with email campaigns and petitions. At the moment we've got a bewildering array of trade agreements and laws to fight, each of which is best known by their acronyms: CETA, the Canadian-EU trade agreement; TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and The India-EU free trade agreement, officially known as the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA). Oh, and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) have resurrected the Broadcasting Treaty the EFF defeated five years ago.

We are going to have to fight this stuff one battle at a time while simultaneously pushing for laws in our respective countries to enshrine net neutrality in the laws of our lands and work for intellectual property law reform to guarantee our freedom. We can't do this by ourselves. We need all the help we can possibly get and then some. While money helps, what we really need is willing hearts and minds with a will to type out personalised emails, sign petitions, and share information on the social media to help raise awareness. This is not about spending your lives being angry, it's about the willingness to put the work into maintaining what rights we have and fighting to have those we've lost restored. It won't be quick and it won't be easy, but as the saying goes, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

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