ACTA Update I

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or identi.ca, or on Google+ will have noticed something of a crescendo of posts about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) recently. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the immediate...

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Anyone who follows me on Twitter or identi.ca, or on Google+ will have noticed something of a crescendo of posts about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) recently. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that the immediate threat of SOPA and PIPA has subsided somewhat (although it's important to stress that they are by no means dead, and that they, or something very like them, will come back soon enough.) With that fire now put out, I've been able to turn my attention back to ACTA – and just in time, it seems.

For on Thursday 20 January, 22 members of the European Union signed the treaty – including the UK, to its shame. There has not been a single opportunity for members of the public in this country to express their views on any aspect of this treaty. Indeed, the treaty was negotiated in complete secrecy, broken only by the occasional leaks, including a key one from Wikileaks that really proved crucial in terms of allowing the general public to see how they were being stitched up behind closed doors.

Since it is signed, you might think we are just stuck with it; fortunately, because of the Byzantine way the European Union works, the European Parliament too must formally accept the treaty – and that is our opportunity. For the defeat of SOPA/PIPA, albeit temporary, and the Wikipedia blackout that took place on 18 January, has changed many things.

It has changed how politicians regard traditionally dull areas like copyright: as the US politicians suddenly discovered, supporting unpopular copyright bills like SOPA and PIPA could threaten their re-election chances. And anything that starts to turn into a liability is quickly dumped. This offers us the chance to make clear to European politicians that the same risk is attached to their vote.

Perhaps even more importantly, the mobilisation against SOPA has made the users of the Internet aware that there are rather a lot of them, and that collectively they wield huge power. So if we can get a similar wave of action against ACTA as was generated against SOPA, then it's quite possible that the former can be defeated. And if the European Parliament fails to pass it – it can't modify it at this stage – it is dead.

I first wrote about ACTA in May 2008, and I've blogged about it many times here on Computerworld UK, so readers of this blog will already know why ACTA is such bad news for open source, the Internet and users of both. In future posts I intend to concentrate more on what is happening around ACTA, and how the fight against it is going – and what we can all do personally. I'll be passing on analyses that others make, as well as throwing a few of mine into the mix too. And, of course, I'd be interested to hear your views on what is written about ACTA in this column or elsewhere, and more generally how we can stop ACTA before it's too late.

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