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.




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