Why ACTA needs to be Defeated


Mobilisations can defeat ACTA

This week may see a rare occurrence in the European Parliament – the defeat of a key item in the big business agenda pushed by European Commission. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is set to be voted on by the full plenary of the European Parliament on Wednesday, despite some last minute chicanery by the European People’s Party to try to delay the vote. Given the votes against ACTA that have already taken place in the International Trade Committee and other committees in the Parliament, if the pressure is kept up, it looks set to be defeated.

The sole reason we may be on the verge of an important victory is because of the massive movement of protest that has erupted against it. As I write, emails are arriving from those opposed to ACTA at a rate of around one per minute. MEPs from all political groups have had their inboxes flooded by anti-ACTA activists and the European Parliament website was shut down for a day by anti-ACTA activists. Almost three million people have signed an online petition against ACTA.

As well as this online movement of opposition, there have been protests across Europe. Ireland saw a number of protests of hundreds of people against ACTA. In some other countries in Europe, much larger protests of tens of thousands of people developed. These protests were a decisive factor in the resignation of the Romanian President, Emil Bloc and in Bulgaria the minister responsible for ACTA was forced to offer his resignation.

This movement and the potential defeat of ACTA tomorrow is a vindication of a campaigning approach of mobilising protests to bring massive pressure to bear on politicians. This pressure has been evident at the meetings of the International Trade Committee (INTA – the committee responsible for dealing with ACTA) in the Parliament, which I am a member of, where right-wing MEPs have been visibly squirming under the pressure.

Contempt for democracy

The response of the European Commission to this popular opposition has been arrogant in the extreme. The EU Trade Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, a neo-liberal ideologue, wrote to all of the MEPs on the INTA committee a few months ago. He declared that:

“In the last few days, some parts of civil society have intensified their campaign against this agreement. As we have seen before, and despite the European Commission’s efforts to provide all the relevant facts, the action they take is based on misinformation, or possibly even worse, on wilful misinterpretation of the content of the agreement.”

In this statement, the opposition of millions of Europeans to this agreement is reduced to ignorance or being consciously misled by campaigners. Who needs democracy when we have the European Commission to decide! This completely undemocratic approach has been continued by the Commission when faced with the growing opposition to ACTA in the Parliament, reflecting the opposition outside.

Two weeks ago, Commissioner de Gucht came to the International Trade Committee the day before it was due to vote on ACTA to address the committee in a last ditch attempt to get it passed. Here his contempt for democracy once more shone through, declaring:

“If you decide for a negative vote before the European Court rules, let me tell you that the Commission will nonetheless continue to pursue the current procedure before the Court, as we are entitled to do. A negative vote will not stop the proceedings before the court of Justice.”

This reference to the European Court of Justice is a trick that the Commission used in order to try to buy time and allow the pressure to ease off. They referred it to the Court hoping for a positive endorsement, which could then be used to push ahead with ACTA at a later date. De Gucht went on to say that even if the ECJ ruled that it was not compatible, he will simply try to get around this ruling, saying that “we will assess at that stage how this can be addressed.”

De Gucht also explained that if the European Parliament voted against the Treaty, they would also simply try to get around it by seeking some “clarifications” to ACTA and then seeking a second vote in the European Parliament. This sounds suspiciously like the procedure carried out with the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, where meaningless ‘clarification’ were promised in a ‘Protocol’ to the Treaty and the Irish people were forced to vote a second time in order to provide the ‘right’ outcome.

Protest against ACTA at the Dail

“The oil of the 21st century”

Why is the Commission pushing this agreement so hard and why has it been met with such a massive response across Europe? The answer lies in the nature of capitalism today in the developed capitalist economies and the importance of intellectual property for big business. As Mark Getty, chairman of Getty Images famously claimed, “Intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century”. This sums it up. ACTA is a mechanism to facilitate that ‘oil’ being privately owned and exploited by the rich. It is a tool to protect the profits of the major corporations by protecting their intellectual property. It does this at the expense of civil liberties, internet freedom and by endangering access to generic medicines and seeds.

ACTA is a direct by-product of a lobbying offensive launched in 2004 by the International Chamber of Commerce. It was then presided over by the CEO of Vivendi Universal (a huge media corporation), Jean-Rene Fourtou, whose wife was the MEP responsible for the Intellectrual Property Righs Enforcement Directive! Formal negotiations for ACTA were launched in October 2007 and the whole process was shrouded in secrecy, with no transparency or open negotiations. It was only in 2010 (three years into the negotiations) that a draft text was released.

The full ACTA treaty can be read here (http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/11/st12/st12196.en11.pdf ). Although as is typical, it is written in dense legalese, the essence of it is simple enough. It is a means to impose pressure on the countries that sign ACTA to implement laws to crack down on intellectual property theft. Article 27 deals with “digital enforcement” and puts pressure on Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In this way, it attempts to turn the ISPs into a private police force for the major entertainment industries to police breaches of copyright. This represents a real threat to internet freedoms. It also involves a breach in the right to privacy by potentially allowing corporations to access private data from ISPs about their users, without any decision by a judge. ACTA also provides that criminal sanctions must be applied for cases of infringement of IPR on a “commercial scale”. This is a deliberately open term and could be used to demand criminal sanctions on those involved in not for profit file-sharing.

A number of NGOs including Oxfam have correctly raised the concern that ACTA could limit access to generic medicines. Generic medicines could potentially be seized at customs and treated as ‘counterfeit’. The same applies to generic seeds. Although the European Commission denies it, if ACTA comes into force it is likely to demand either openly or covertly that less developed countries sign up to ACTA before agreeing any Free Trade Agreements. The process of ACTA has been fundamentally undemocratic since its very inception. If it is established, that lack of democracy would be enshrined with the establishment of a powerful and non-transparent ‘ACTA committee’.

The alternative to ACTA

It is clear in whose interests ACTA is being driven at the expense of many basic rights and freedoms. The protests that have taken place have given a glimpse of how these interests and this agenda can be tackled. Of course, even if ACTA is defeated, it is obvious from de Gucht’s comments that the Commission will return to this agenda and attempt to strengthen intellectual property. It will need to be met again and again by mass movements. More fundamentally, however, it underlines the need for a struggle for a fundamentally different model of dealing with intellectual property – a socialist model.

The alternative to the model of ownership of knowledge pushed by ACTA and similar measures like SOPA is is a rejection of the presumption that ideas and research should be held privately. In fact, we need free sharing of knowledge in the interests of the world’s population. This can only be done by breaking the stranglehold of the major corporations over research and development and artistic creation. Through democratic public ownership, research and knowledge could be shared for the benefit of all of society and a model developed to guarantee a fair return and decent standard of living for artists.

The pressure needs to be kept up for the next day to try to ensure we defeat ACTA in the European Parliament tomorrow. If we do, it should not mean that the people who have been active against ACTA are demobilised. Continuing vigilance and mobilisation will be necessary to stop further attempts going along the same line, but also to struggle for a socialist model of free sharing of knowledge.

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One comment

  1. ACTA I S totally wrong, it tries to give copyright-holders extralegal rights, rights that not even police in civiliced countries have. (Police in dictatorshops and other non-free countries often have such rights!) Stopping ACTA only one first step, the whole immaterial-right legislation have to be rewritten based on personal rights.
    One have to remember that some rights are neccesary, patent law kicked of tecnical innovation but todays misuse of patent law stiffles innovation. (Patent law should only protect innovations that have high enough invention hight, as written in one site “that people used to that trade would not invent it by themselves”. One big misuse was Xerox, since they put a blanket minefield of patents on all development involved in copiers, nobody else was working in that field, meaning that there was nobody else to invent in that field, meaning you could not brove that the inventins lacked invention heigh.
    Likevise patenting substances, patent law orginally only patented uses of such inventions, not the substance as such, and only if best use was mentioned in the patent. (About medicine, I would change such patents to patent on registration for a shorter time than normal patents but running, land by land, from permit for general sale IF enough information is given for other to produce after patent have run out.) Anoter wrong with patent law is that when you find a new use for a substance, you can not patent that new use so you can not protect your cost to test it and obtain permit to market it.
    Trademark have the problem of pirating trademarks like Volvo registered in possible new markets to blackmail out money, OR, as happened, Microsoft trying to force a Swedish office-service company to change name since Microsoft registered a trademark exactly the same as that companys only for a product designed more than 5 years after the Swedish company started trading under its name! Microsoft lost in high court and was surprised that they had to pay the millions that defence had cost the Swedish company. (BTW suing in court is a common way in USA to extradit money since according to USA law each pay his costs regardless of outcome which means that winning can cost many millions!)
    Commmon copyright is also out of logical order.
    Once it was for life of orginator, but only if he kept control of the product, work for hire was limited to a few years, likevise anonymus work and work with to many orginators. There was a provision for copyright to continue for a limited time after orginator died, but no 50 years or as rwecently even worse 70 years! The only winners on that are company and taxmen! (Also some change in how infringement is decided are needed, inspiration should not be named infringement BUT what a Swedish Bandleader-composer wrote in his memoars shod be forbidden- he was repededly contracted to write pieces that sounded like some popular piece but steared clear from infringment. some of his pieces sound to common people like the original! by intention.)
    Alltogether I think that we need a lot of thinking and debate to make immaterial laws that really work, both to protect innovators and creators but not giving windfall rights to companies and taxmen or stiffling innovation and creativity!
    M Sandberg
    Murargatan 10 B
    S-754 37 Uppsala
    (You are welkome to send me comments etc on this!)

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