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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Bye bye ACTA, for now – The online war against ACTA and SOPA

487 votes against ACTA. That was the overwhelming result of today’s plenary vote in the European Parliament on the European ACTA plans (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement); a significant success for free intellectual rights and open sources. The agreement aimed to establish an international legal framework for targeting counterfeit goods, generic medicines and copyright infringement on the Internet, and would create a new governing body outside existing forums, such as the WTO, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), or the UN.

Seems like a total triumph for every individual internet user and for a general open source idea. However, the current defeat of ACTA will certainly not mean the definite abolishment of the plans of global legal regimes against copyright infringement in the web, although it is a symbolic event with the European Parliament to vote against ACTA on the US Independence Day – evidently a signal to the US policy and law makers to do a rethink on their SOPA plans.

With the US SOPA bill (Stop Online Piracy Act) still on the line, national governments and IOs are cooperating in close alliance for a global control of information and media sources. Especially global media companies will use the provisions of SOPA and ACTA to hunt down any known or potential subject violating copyright laws, no matter how insignificant or negligible this infringement might be.

If ACTA and SOPA were signed and ratified, it would mean the end of any open source medium, and the end of any global access to information. It would be a slap in the face for the achievements of the internet as the predominant information tool, for media, for science, for any online user. It would mean the end of free access to online information on various channels, no matter if news sites, movie and music platforms, Wikipedia, Google, or even blogs.

For sure, it is a natural reaction for everyone to oppose any legal or political attempt to limit the free access to information – a main agenda point of the German Pirate Party. Also, in our post-modern information society we became used to have free access to all kind of information, to share thoughts, songs, and video clips through various channels, and only a few of us are actually scared of “violating” copyright laws just by watching a movie on Youtube.

However, global – and above all US – media companies do not hesitate to push SOPA and ACTA ahead so that the companies in question can declare the world wide web as their own area of jurisdiction. In a certain way it already exists in Germany, where a notable number of music clips are blocked on Youtube for not paying fees to the GEMA (“Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte” = Society for musical performing and mechanical reproduction rights). As the GEMA charges around 12 cents per streamed video, users are unable to upload clips without being either charged to pay or to face a painful law suit.

This is just one example how “internet censorship” might look like, and if ACTA and SOPA should succeed and be implemented to global web, the number of blocked sites will dramatically increase, and set an end to open sources. It also means that we, the normal users, won’t be able to post anything on any website without taking the risk of being probably sued for copyright infringement. Any Wikipedia entry we write or edit, or any links we post on Facebook will be subject for a law suit in case of insufficient quotation or “false information input”, Youtube will be inaccessible, Google search will be severely limited and blogs be painfully limited in its contents.

Although ACTA seems to be down for now, it is more likely that it might come back, or even secretly introduced, even with changed provisions or with a completely different name. On the other hand, the web community has proven to be resilient in its fight for open sources and a free distribution of information. The online fight against ACTA and SOPA is just at its very beginning, and a first decisive battle was successfully fought.

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