Here we go again.
The same online furor over Internet piracy unleashed by SOPA and PIPA in the United States has now made its way to Europe, where, as the Post’s Hayley Tsukuyama reports, activists and protesters are fighting to stop the ratification of a piece of SOPA-like legislation known as ACTA, or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
Over the past few days in Europe, including in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, a mix of protesters taking to the streets and online activists co-opting the tactics of Anonymous have combined forces to take down government Web sites and embarrass public officials over their stance. Much as Internet activists did in the U.S., they argued that ACTA was a threat to individual liberty and the future of Internet innovation.
If you’re wondering what you can do as a citizen of the Web to stop ACTA from hitting U.S. shores, stop wondering. Last October, the U.S. became a signatory to the international agreement along with 22 other European nations. And that’s where things get interesting, because the entire process of bringing the legislation to the European Parliament has been, in the words of Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) activist Eva Galperin, “opaque and undemocratic.”
Prior to passage by the U.S., a few brave voices, such as the EFF, voiced their concern, but it was a case of too little, too early. In Davos, Switzerland, California Congressman Darrell Issa argued that ACTA was actually "more dangerous than SOPA." However, there was no public debate about ACTA in the U.S. because, technically, there didn’t have to be.
Talk about a misdirection play. At a time when all eyes were on the SOPA ball heading into the final days of 2011, Hollywood and the entertainment industry were pulling an end-run around, coming up with legislation that didn’t actually require passage by U.S. lawmakers. By structuring ACTA as an international trade agreement and cloaking the process in secrecy, it was easy for other nations around the world to quietly sign on.
Signing up to strengthen copyright and IP rights enforcement sounds good on the surface. After all, who doesn’t want to protect all of those hard-working content creators out there? Government leaders failed to read the fine print, though. That means they may have missed all the passages that would transform the Internet into a type of police-state controlled by the entertainment industry. When they found out what they had agreed to, there were some obvious sighs of embarrassment, with some public officials even admitting publicly that they had goofed and reversing their stance.
There’s a moral here, of course. Clay Shirky, in a primer on SOPA that he gave to TED during the peak of the anti-SOPA backlash, offered a stern warning: We should always remain vigilant. The entertainment industry will keep coming up with new ways to protect their old business models.
SOPA and PIPA may have died on the Congressional steps, but they are like one of Hollywood’s most popular character types: zombies. If ACTA were a film, it would be called “Night of the Living Dead 2.” And ACTA is not alone. There are other bills on the way that pose threats to the future of the Internet. The next piece of legislation on the horizon is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which could impact the future of intellectual property and copyrighted content.
By now, it’s clear that piracy, intellectual property and copyright are all vital issues with important implications for the future of the Internet. It’s also clear that the Internet will rise up to defeat any planned legislation if it’s given a chance. The risk is that concerned entertainment interests will use supra-national authority to bypass all the niceties of actually getting legislation ratified by elected representatives.
The SOPA undead are all around us, it will require the Internet equivalent of a silver bullet to defeat each and every one of them.
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