Digital News, — February 13, 2012 9:26 — 3 Comments
Anti-counterfeiting treaty lacks balance, says European Parliament president, but publishers call for calm and reasoned assessment while thousands brave cold to march
The European Parliament’s president has criticised the international copyright treaty Acta, arguing that it lacks sufficient balance, after protests in cities across the continent by tens of thousands of protesters.
European Parliament president Martin Schulz, speaking to Germany’s ARD television on Sunday about the Anti-CounterfeitingTrade Agreement (Acta), said: “I don’t find it good in its current form.”
He said the necessary balance between copyright protection and the individual rights of internet users was only very inadequately anchored in the agreement.
But backers of the agreement say it is needed to harmonise international standards to protect the rights of those who produce music, movies, pharmaceuticals and other piracy-prone products.
The European Publishers’ Council, whose members include the major newspaper and magazine publishing groups on the continent and in the UK – including the Guardian Media Group, which owns the Guardian – called for a calm and reasoned assessment of the facts rather than taking decisions on the basis of hysterical misinformation.
“A considered reaction is more important than ever at a time when many outside of Europe doubt the ability of the European Union institutions and its member state governments to act together,” it said. “Failure to ratify Acta would also jeopardise the future of secure copyright protection at EU level just at the moment when the European Commission is about to review the copyright directive.”
Acta opponents fear it will lead to censorship and a loss of privacy on the internet, and curb their freedom to download movies and music for free while encouraging internet surveillance.
Thousands protested in several European countries on Saturday. In German cities more than 25,000 demonstrators marched in freezing temperatures, while 4,000 Bulgarians in Sofia rallied against the agreement, which is designed to strengthen the legal framework for intellectual property rights.
Thousands more demonstrated at otherhigh-spirited rallies, despite snow and freezing temperatures, in cities including Warsaw, Prague, Slovakia, Bucharest, Vilnius, Paris, Brussels and Dublin.
“We don’t feel safe anymore. The internet was one of the few places where we could act freely,” said Monica Tepelus, a 26-year-oldprogrammer protesting with about 300 people in Bucharest.
Opposition to Acta is especially strong in Eastern Europe and spreading rapidly. Protesters have compared it to the Big Brother-style surveillance used by former communist regimes. Downloading films and music is also a popular way for many young Eastern Europeans to obtain free entertainment.
“Stop Acta!” read a banner carried by one of the 2,000 marchers in central Berlin, where temperatures were -10C.
“It’s not acceptable to sacrifice the rights of freedom for copyrights,” said Thomas Pfeiffer, a leader of the Greens party in Munich where 16,000 people protested against Acta on Saturday.
Governments of eight nations including Japan and the US signed an agreement in October aiming to cut copyright and trademark theft.
The signing was hailed as a step toward bringing Acta into effect. However, it still has to be ratified by national parliaments.
The UK has not yet signed officially, but its copyright and counterfeiting laws are already as strong as any suggested in Acta.
Negotiations over Acta have been taking place for several years. Some European countries have signed Acta but it has not yet been signed or ratified in many countries.
Acta aims to cut trademark theft and tackle other online piracy. But the accord has sparked concerns, especially in Eastern European countries as well as in Germany which is sensitive about its history with the Gestapo and Stasi secret police, over online censorship and increased surveillance.
“We want Acta stopped,” Yanko Petrov, who attended a rally in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, told state broadcaster BNT. “We have our own laws, we don’t need international acts.”
The protesters are concerned that illicit downloading of movies and music might lead to prison sentences if the Acta was ratified by parliaments.
They also fear that exchanging material online may become a crime and say the accord will allow for massive online surveillance.
• Germany’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday it would hold off on signing.
• In the Bulgarian capital Sofia, most of the 4,000 demonstrators on Saturday were youths. Some wore the grinning, moustachioed Guy Fawkes masks that have become a symbol of the hacker group Anonymous and other global protest movements.
• In Warsaw, some 500 protesters demonstrated, brandishing placards saying “No to Acta”, “Down with censorship” and ”Free internet”. Several hundred turned out in the southwestern city of Wroclaw, the Baltic port of Szczecin and Poznan.
• In Paris, about 1,000 people marched against Acta. “It’s a demonstration without precedent because it’s taking place in all of Europe at the same time,” said Jeremie Zimmermann, spokesman for internet freedom group Quadrature du Net.
• In Prague, Czechoslovakia, about 1,500 people marched against Acta. Some waved black pirate flags with white skull and crossed bones, and others wore white masks of the Guy Fawkes character.
Some carried banners against the Acta treaty such as ”Freedom to the internet” and ”Acta attacks Freedom”, and chanted “Freedom, Freedom”. Smaller gatherings took place in other Czech cities.
The Czech government has held off on ratification of the Acta treaty, saying it needs to be analysed.
• Romania’s state news agency Agerpres said 2,000 people protested against Acta in the Transylvanian city of Cluj, carrying banners that said: “Paws off the internet.”
• In Croatia, protests were held in Zagreb, Split and Rijeka, with demonstrators, some masked, carrying banners reading: “Stop internet censorship.”
A group identifying itself as Anonymous hacked into the webpage of Croatian president Ivo Josipovic, who has defended copyright measures. It remained unavailable for several hours.
It also crashed the pages of ZAMP, a Croatian professional service that looks after the protection of composers’ rights and copyright, and the Institute of Croatian Music.
• In Bratislava, hundreds of young Slovaks rallied, many also wearing Guy Fawkes masks. About 1,000 people demonstrated in Budapest.
Local media reported about 600 people protested at the government building in Vilnius. Lithuania Justice Minister Remigijus Simasius said in his blog some of Acta’s provisions could pose a threat to internet freedom.
“I don’t know where it [Acta] comes from and how it originated, but I don’t like that this treaty was signed skillfully avoiding discussions in the European Union and Lithuania,” Simasius wrote.
The EPC said: “Failure to ratify ACTA would also jeopardise the future of secure copyright protection at EU level just at the moment when the European Commission is about to review the copyright directive.”
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