Well, we did it: ACTA was resoundingly defeated in the European Parliament yesterday by 478 votes to 39, with 165 abstentions. That's largely because so many of us contacted our MEPs, wrote emails and even took to the streets. Leaving aside the victory in itself, that's important too because people across Europe have worked together on a massive scale in the defence of the Internet and its freedom.
For the first time, the European Parliament has said "no" to the European Commission by rejecting an international trade agreement. The former has emerged strengthened as a result, while the latter is wounded and weakened. That's hugely significant for the future, since it gives ordinary European citizens the chance to make their voices heard through their MEPs.
Sadly, we will doubtless need that capability as new proposals come down for the Commission to rein in that troublesome Internet thing. It's also important to note that ACTA isn't dead: the Commission has said that it will await the result of the referral of the treaty to the European Court of Justice, and hinted that it might re-present ACTA, perhaps in a modified form if it can persuade the other signatories. Equally, some of the latter, like Australia, are having second thoughts about ACTA, so perhaps the treaty will simply fall to pieces now. We really don't know, but we do know that yesterday's vote was a critical moment that will play an important part in shaping how things develop.
In terms of the future, it's important for us to consider why some MEPs voted in favour of ACTA, despite all the incredibly strong reasons not to. Simon Phipps has written a great blog post on this point. We should also think about all the MEPs who did vote against ACTA. Like their colleagues, they have apparently been deluged with emails urging them to reject ACTA; unlike some of their colleagues, they listened, and voted it down. For that they deserve our thanks, and Rick Falkvinge has made a wonderful proposal how we might do that (in addition to sending your own MEPs a nice email):
MEPs are used to just being yelled and yanked at from people who want favors. In rejecting ACTA, I think the MEPs who voted to reject it deserve a little show of our appreciation, so why not send them a bunch of flowers? The MEPs are quite ordinary people, too, and put yourself in their shoes – if a complete stranger should just break through the wall where you work and give you flowers, how would you react? That, just that, is the effect we can accomplish together.
This has never happened before. People, ordinary citizens, have never showered Parliament with flowers out of gratitude for standing up for us. If we shouldn't do it now, then when?
Finally, if you want to make another gesture, you could do worse than signing up to the Declaration of Internet Freedom, as I have. Here are the main principles:
We support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy and the establishment of five basic principles:
Expression: Don't censor the Internet.
Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks.
Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate.
Innovation: Protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don't block new technologies, and don't punish innovators for their users' actions.
Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone's ability to control how their data and devices are used.
Part of the point of this is to start a discussion around what Internet freedom means, and how it can be defended; one place you can join in is over on Techdirt's site. Yesterday's victory was a wonderful moment that we should savour and be proud of, but we really need to make it the start of something new and positive, not just the end of something old and negative.