Lessons from the ACTA battles and opening up new fronts


Today in Strasbourg a massive majority of the European Parliament voted to reject ACTA

It is the first time the European Parliament has rejected an international treaty already signed by the European Commission (and by 22 of 27 EU member states). The power of the EU´s legislative branch has been clearly reinforced.  This time the Parliament has not been the usual rubber-stamp for questionable EU trade proposals. Of even greater importance, European civil society has emerged as a very powerful actor that can no longer be dispatched by EU institutions with the traditional “participate a little, then we´ll decide with our industry buddies.”

Business as usual” has been disrupted by the ACTA affair for many reasons.

  1. Transparency: the fight for transparency was a pivotal way of exposing EU officials who consistently hid documents, negotiated behind closed doors and gave preferential access to inside information to large industries. The eroding effect of leaked documents, tweeted closed-door meetings and widely spread rumours was devastating on the credibility of EU negotiators.

  2. International civil society synergy: There has been an impressive and very fruitful collaboration between the academic world and the advocacy network to lay the intellectual and social infrastructure groundwork for a massive anti-ACTA response. Especially positive has been the common work on monitoring the negotiating strategies and contradictions of USTR and DG Trade proposals, both technically and politically. This transatlantic commonality of interest came to a head after the defeat in the US of SOPA and PIPA which had a contagious effect on European civil society. When the European Parliament finally started to decide on ACTA there was already a wealth of serious critical analysis, networked supporting organizations and clear substantiated bullet-points to convince all kinds of politicians.

  3. Unity in diversity against ACTA: Civil society work on ACTA has been a unique opportunity to at once contrast and inform upon a broad variety of intimately entwined issues, from health to trade, from internet governance to copyright reform. It brought together global South activists worried about ACTA´s institutional arrangements that attempted to bypass existing inclusive UN bodies in order to set a negative benchmark for bilateral free trade agreements with regards to fair access to knowledge and technology transfer.

  4. Europe from the bottom up, from the East: At a time of great European crisis and very low confidence in the European project, EU civil society has given a brilliant example on how to organize a positive European identity across borders,using social networks, in defence of the European values of democracy, open culture and global justice. Polish activists were specially brilliant in mobilizing tens of thousands in the streets against ACTA, clearly changing the tide of the whole relation of forces that had been quite favorable to ACTA until that time.

  5. A divided business community:Of significant importance was the opposition to ACTA of important parts of the business community, especially vocal in the case of Internet service providers and more discreetly on the part of the broader IT industry. ACTA has sparked a broader debate about business models that flourish with a more flexible application of intellectual property rules.

  6. The Internet community defended its space. Milllons of internauts became socially conscious and in some cases “indignados”. The ACTA fight reflected that most people want a decentralized, neutral, open and uncensured Internet. When they felt this was threatened by ACTA, they rebelled.

New fronts:

  1. Intellectual property reform or counter-reform: A series of legislations are coming up in the EU concerning copyright: a new version of IPRED (Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive), Collective management of copyright directive, Public Sector Information Directive, data protection directive and possibly a proposal on on-line commerce of audio-visual works and Unitary Patent Directive. On the reform side, there is still a big fight to be won on the Treaty for the Visually Impaired and other print disabled persons at the World Intellectual Property Organization. As well, there are other proposals to establish harmonized exceptions and limitations to copyright in the area of libraries, among others.

  2. Open access to scientific research publications and results. There is an “academic spring” going on across Europe in which thousands of scientists are demanding “open access” to scientific articles published from publicly funded research. Another important issue is open access to biomedical research data to prevent the present system that conceals secondary effects and the real efficacy of new medicines.

  3. New Innovation models are on the agenda.  One example is at the World Health Organization where many countries from the South have proposed a Global Research and Development Treaty to provide accessible and affordable medicines to the most of the world´s population through new forms of IPR reform, prize schemes and patent pooling. The EU´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (80 billion euros) now being considered in the EP has proposed a number of new licensing schemes for exploiting results, open access to data and innovation inducement prizes. The coming discussion of collective management of copyright in the EP could  also consider a number of innovative proposals on music and film on-line.

  4. Other Internet issues that are being discused in the EU are open standards in IT, net neutrality and interoperability.  They all need political pressure and public involvement.




5 comments for “Lessons from the ACTA battles and opening up new fronts

  1. July 4, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    “European civil society has emerged as a very powerful actor that can no longer be dispatched by EU institutions with the traditional “participate a little, then we´ll decide with our industry buddies.”

    The Age of Digital has brought new powerful kids in the block. These new industry bro’s lobby the EU Commission, but they are maybe buddying-in-the-background with online civil society.

    Get the picture: how simple is it to target the right people, let them evangelize your message, when you’ve got detailed data-profiles of them, when you’ve stored every move they make on the web, when you have stats about the way they react in social media. Think Google (YouTube), Facebook, Twitter. Happening to be firms that massively collect personal data and depend on free available content for their profit.

    Above that, Google search is widely used by EU parliamentarians and civil servants. How easy is it, when they type ‘acta comments eu’, to present negative comments on the first three search result pages? Giving you the feeling you will loose a lot of voters when you vote for ACTA.

    There are a lot of reasons to vote against ACTA and I’m glad it is rejected by the EU Parliament. In doing so it created room for the EU to develop smart modern rulings. But don’t think civil society isn’t actively influenced by the new industry bro’s. It’s a new era, it’s the age of digital stupid. 😉

  2. July 5, 2012 at 10:48 am

    The ACTA legislation was a case of IP Rights owners trying to enhance their already considerable means to protect their IP Assets — and maybe was an over-reach on their part. They will retreat, lick their wounds, and maybe try something different next time.

    The proposals that you mention in ‘New Fronts 1. Intellectual property reform’ above including the upcoming WIPO SCCR 24 discussions on treaties / instruments for the visually impaired & other reading disabilities and exceptions for libraries represent — at least from the IP Rights holders perspective — a case of diminishing their existing rights.

    Do not expect them to retreat.

  3. Caroline
    July 6, 2012 at 10:47 am

    @eli, on the contrary I think that a lot of civilians have gained insight on how the construction of treaties works, that it is a one-two between the governments and the industries. But the happenings around ACTA have displayed that we can make our representatives responsible for representing us.
    The new kids on the block, the nerds, the internetties have seen this, and they know how to spread the news, and now we have strong organsations that concentrate the information and make it available to the public. EDRI, EFF, FII, AVAAZ, Wikileaks, etc their tweets cannot be circumvented by google or Facebook.
    Essential is that we continuously have to fight for our freedom of speech. That is an ongoing struggle as certainly the IP holders will continue to fight for gathering more and more money than they already have got, and they already have lots of lobbyists near the parliaments.
    Isn’t it a nice idea to make an inventarisation of who these lobbyists are? To have an overview of who they are and what they say.
    More treaties are to be expected and must be opposed.

    We need a fair system for IP, fair for artists, fair for industries, fair for civilians, fair for the not-haves in this world.
    No more filling of the too deep pockets of people that already swim in their money.

  4. Ralf Bendrath
    July 7, 2012 at 12:13 am

    “It is the first time the European Parliament has rejected an international treaty already signed by the European Commission”

    No. The first one was the SWIFT/TFTP agreement in early 2010, and last year, the new fishery agreement with Morocco was also rejected. There may be even more which I don’t know. ACTA was new because the rejection was based on mass protest from civil society across Europe.

    • July 7, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      WhatI meant was multilateral trade agreements as opposed to bilateral ones. Thanks anyways. David

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