The youth acting to stop ACTA in Europe
With almost 3 million signatories in protest against a bill that is still to be ratified by the European Parliament, one would assume the bill in question would be fairly well known amongst the public.Ethan Loughrey considers why two surveys on this very question presented very different answers.
The bill in question is known as ACTA – the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, described by the EU as a step towards “ensuring that the EU’s already high standard of protection for intellectual property rights can be enforced globally.”
Of 100 respondents to an online questionnaire, 86% replied that they had both heard of the bill and knew what it was.
Of these recipients however, nearly all were between the ages of 18 and 24.
A separate survey, also carried out for this piece, questioned 100 members of the public and subsequently showed that than ¼ of the initial estimate, with only 13% of people knowing of ACTA.
The huge disparity seems to be due to what many believe could be the biggest threat if ACTA is ratified; a massive clampdown on internet freedom.
During a recent visit to the EU Parliament in Brussels, I met with the Head of Press for the UK Office of the European Parliament, Paola Buonnadonna. She informed me that the biggest debate of the day would centre on ACTA, and that there was a strong buzz amongst many of the journalists waiting to cover it.
The debate in question was even more fraught following the resignation just prior to the meeting of French MEP, Kader Arif. Mr Arif, who was the chief investigator on ACTA spoke out against it saying that the bill “goes too far”, regarding restricting internet freedom and having the potential to limit access to life saving drugs (on the basis that generic drugs are the intellectual property of somebody and therefore can’t be used without prior permission).
The European Commission who negotiated ACTA, obviously conscious of the damage this could have on the bill, has numerous pages of “common myths of ACTA” on its website, disputing both of these claims.
It reads, “There are no provisions in ACTA that could directly or indirectly affect the legitimate trade in generic medicines or, more broadly, global public health.”
The bill is also available to download in full from the website in every EU language.
Yet despite this defence, ACTA continues to draw controversy, most recently following British MEP David Martin’s outspoken criticism of it.
Mr. Martin was unavailable for comment, however a statement provided by his office said that “the intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties.”
This same sentiment was expressed by one of the many millions of online opponents to ACTA, Stephen Donnelly. Mr Donnelly told me that, “any agreement which infringes any person’s human right to freedom of expression is a path not worth going down.”
Similarly, Jordan Foy – another online protestor – explained the severity of the damage to the various elements of the internet that many today take for granted.
“… for me the biggest problem with ACTA is the fact that the copyright laws would be so stringent that comics, reviews or videos that reference anything could so easily be taken down for “violating copyright”… if you can’t say an opinion freely on the internet, where can you say it?”
The next step of voting for ACTA was due to take place on June 12th, for member states to ratify it. It has however hit a snag having been referred to the European Court of Justice. This comes after an open letter, which was signed by numerous multinational European corporations (including Consumers International and the Free Software Foundation), accusing it of restricting, “the fundamental rights and expressions of European citizens, most notably the freedom of expression and communication privacy.”
The bill is the latest in a series of international laws being passed by governments to establish a greater control over the privatised and almost completely restriction-free internet. All of these bills have faced, what many commentators believe is an unprecedented wave of opposition, ironically made possible by the very freedom many feel will be taken away by ACTA and its American counterpart, CISPA.
Whatever the decision taken by the European Court of Justice, ACTA will eventually be determined by a vote, however the recent change to the system had made it more complicated. The European Parliament must vote on whether or not to ratify it, given that all but five of the member states have signed for its support. If accepted by the Parliament, the actual act of ratification will then be passed back to the national authorities who must decide on how best to do so. Any comments made by the European Court of Justice will at that time be taken on board by the governments.