So, SOPA appears to be dead (for now at least). But across the pond, Europe is facing a new law that could be even more draconian than SOPA.Here’s what you need to know.
What is ACTA?
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a broad agreement that aims to create uniform international standards on protecting the rights of those who produce music, movies, medicines, fashion, and other products that are victim to intellectual property theft (which costs $250 billion annually) and patent issues, the Guardian reports.
The idea for the treaty was born in October 2007, as a collaborative effort between the United States, the EU, Switzerland, and Japan. The reason there were no protests until almost five years later is because the public remained mostly unaware of EU negotiations, until they were put in the spotlight by Anonymous, according to RT.
Who has signed it?
While Japan, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea signed it in 2010, the European Commission and non elected representatives from 22 of the EU’s member states signed ACTA in 2011, according to StopACTA.info.
However, the bill still needs to be ratified by the EU parliament before it can come into effect. The vote is scheduled for June, but MEPs are already under immense pressure from pro- and anti-ACTA activists.
Who is against it?
So far, Switzerland, Germany, Cyprus, Estonia, the Netherlands, and Slovakia have not signed the bill. Several non-European countries have also expressed reservations over ACTA.
And while both France and Slovenia have signed, one French Member of European Parliament (MEP) resigned from the scrutinizing process, calling it a “masquerade”, while the Slovenian representative wrote a statement apologizing to Slovenian citizens for agreeing to the proposals of ACTA.
How it’s different from SOPA and PIPA
There’s a few ways ACTA is more dangerous and all-encompassing, according to most internet activists.
ACTA is an international treaty. SOPA was a bill before the U.S. Congress, although it also aimed at stopping web piracy of U.S. content on overseas sites.
So ACTA would set up its own legal framework and independent governing body, rather than amending existing national laws in signatory countries. This would give it a wider reach than SOPA, which would require changes to U.S. copyright law and would be administered by U.S. authorities, says the UK’s Intellectual Property Office.
While SOPA and PIPA required approval from the U.S. Congress (and by extension, the American public) to become laws — the major reason they were shelved — ACTA’s negotiations and signings seemed to have gone on behind closed doors, and they do not require the approval of national parliaments (which cannot undo it once ratified), or citizens, because it does not involve changes to existing laws or constitutions.
The EU says ACTA will also not shut down any sites or cut off internet access for anyone, unlike SOPA, which threatened to target those posting pirated content on sites and host sites themselves.
The reason people are protesting it
Internet service providers could be forced to monitor all user activity for possible copyright violations, and trademark owners and law enforcement could get away with greater invasion of privacy and violation of civil liberties during investigations, RT reports.
Opponents also fear authorities will block content on the web, adding ACTA to a long line of attempts at internet censorship.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ACTA would block the free flow of information on the internet, hampering innovation and legitimate commerce.
It also does not allow developing countries to create their own policies. Not all of them might have the resources to create and maintain ACTA safeguards for web piracy, medicines, and other necessary goods. India says it would greatly affect trade of generic medicines, vital to a country where a large section of the population cannot afford brand-name medicines.
People are also suspicious of the way ACTA seems to be a unilateral international agreement, and was prepared behind closed doors (a charge the EU denies, among other ‘ACTA myths’) and signed without consulting international bodies, developing countries, national parliaments, and ordinary citizens.
“This agreement might have major consequences on citizens’ lives, and still, everything is being done to prevent the European Parliament from having its say in this matter,” Kader Arif, the French rapporteur for ACTA who resigned, said, according to StopACTA.info.
Protests have now spread across Europe, with Anonymous playing a key role in online protests — and they might yet be able to stop the ACTA juggernaut: Poland has decided to put off its final approval of the bill, AFP reports.
While the European Commissioners have negotiated the treaty, the Eurpoean Parliament has the final say on whether the treaty will be ratified or not, which means we will only know in June if the cracks that have begun to show in Poland will spread to the rest of Europe.