In the wake of successful, widespread Internet activism against SOPA and PIPA, some momentum has been driven to ACTA, which may be a new four-letter acronym to many people, but has been around for years. ACTA negotiations began in 2006, with the U.S. as one of the first involved nations. ACTA stands for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which mentions counterfeiting in its title, but conflates counterfeiting with piracy, as is often the trend in IP rhetoric and legislation. ACTA is a multilateral treaty that would have consequences for the global Internet, and would impact law enforcement in individual nations. ACTA embodies the historical trend of increased intellectual property enforcement of private rights, without a corresponding public benefit, or any expansion in limitations, exceptions, or defenses. The ACTA process has been marked with secrecy and a lack of transparency; updated drafts have leaked through WikiLeaks at each stage.
Thus far, ACTA has been signed by 31 nations, including the U.S., and 22 members of the E.U., and will enter into force after it has been formally ratified by six of the 31 signing parties. The E.U. signed ACTA on January 26, 2012, months after withholding its signature at the official signing ceremony, although its subsequent requisite parliamentary approval remains uncertain. Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament, stated that: “In November 2010 we proposed an alternative resolution on ACTA, which intended to take away the main concerns. It was voted down by a very slight majority, . . . 16 votes, out of 736.” Schaake and others “are calling for a grass roots campaign to swing the handful of votes needed to defeat ACTA in the EU.” The EU Rapporteur for ACTA, Kader Arif, resigned in protest over the signing, saying: “I condemn the whole process which led to the signature of this agreement: no consultation of the civil society, lack of transparency since the beginning of negotiations, repeated delays of the signature of the text without any explanation given, reject of Parliament’s recommendations as given in several resolutions of our assembly.”
There is growing anti-ACTA backlash by citizens concerned with civil liberties online, which appears to be having a significant impact on changing the minds of European leaders. Opposition has led Poland and the Czech Republic to delay ratification of the treaty despite having signed it. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk stated: “I consider that the arguments for a halt to the ratification process are justified. The issue of signing of the ACTA accord did not involve sufficient consultation with everyone who is part of the process. . . . The ACTA ratification process will be frozen as long as we haven’t overcome all the doubts. . . . We can’t rule out that, at the end of the day, this accord will not be approved.” This came after people were marching in the streets of Poland in protest. Slovakia also appears to be having second thoughts after an ambassador’s public apology for having signed it: “I signed ACTA out of civic carelessness, because I did not pay enough attention. Quite simply, I did not clearly connect the agreement I had been instructed to sign with the agreement that, according to my own civic conviction, limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history, and thus limits particularly the future of our children.” In addition, the Romanian Prime Minister recently resigned, which some have connected to protests and opposition to his support of ACTA.
According to the BBC, there are more than 100 protests scheduled against ACTA this week, including coordinated actions on Saturday, February 11. More than 1.75 million people have signed an online petition urging the E.U. not to ratify ACTA.
Opposition to ACTA is growing in the U.S. as well. Rep. Darrell Issa recently said: “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.” Senator Wyden challenged the administration on ACTA in October 2011, concerned with the constitutionality of its ratification without Congressional approval, and with the potential impact on the public: “The public has a right to know what its government is seeking in these trade agreements, especially as it relates to the Internet, and it’s time for the Obama Administration to tell them.” Several days ago, Wyden reiterated this to the New York Times: “when international accords, like ACTA, are conceived and constructed under a cloak of secrecy, it is hard to argue that they represent the broad interests of the general public. The controversy over ACTA should surprise no one.”