On a bitterly cold and snowy day, reported to be one of the coldest ever in Europe, with temperatures below freezing point, people have taken to the streets to protest against ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement). This is the secretly negotiated copyright treaty, which will impose a new framework of sanctions and penalties against websites and Internet users for the purpose of copyright and IP enforcement. The message coming across loud and clear to European Union policy-makers is "No to ACTA" . It is being shouted in many languages, as the demonstrations range from Sofia to Talinn to Berlin to Amsterdam to Paris and London. The irony is that on Valentine's week-end, the protests are - apparently - organised by a group called 'Anonymous'.
The firsts protests of the day were in Bulgaria, and they occurred through the day in other towns and cities through Europe. A large crowd was recorded marching through Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. They ended up at a rally outside the Bulgarian Parliament. It is difficult to judge the size of the crowd from the video, but almost 50,000 people had registered on Facebook that they would attend the Sofia march. Smaller but enthousiastic crowds were filmed in Varna and Plovdiv.
In Talinn, Estonia the protesters apppeared to be walking on frozen snow. Snow-covered protesters gathered outside the University of Bucharest, Romania where 29000 people had said they would march, although there is no confirmation yet of any numbers. Elsewhere in Romania, in Timisoara, people came out in temperatures of minus 20 degrees centigrade. There was a march in Prague, Czech Republic. In Poland, people once again came out despite the weather, as illustrated by this march through Gdansk. The freezing weather also did not prevent people in Zagreb, Croatia, who stood in a wintry townscape with Stop ACTA banners.
In Germany, protests were organised in more than 60 towns and cities, with up to 200,000 people expected to take part. In Dresden, police figures confirmed that 2500 people attended a rally, according to DNN Online. another source says that 16000-20000 people were marching in Munich, and around 10,000 in Berlin. These are said to be police figures, and they are by far the best attended of the German anti-ACTA demonstrations. Around 2000 people have been counted in Augsburg, Cologne, Hannover, Hamburg, Dortmund, Bielefeld and Wurzburg. 5000 - 7000 are said to be attending in Dusseldorf. An unknown number of people filled a town square in the former east-German town of Chemnitz (once known as Karl-Marx Stadt), where campaigners discussed ACTA and the open Internet. Another town square in the small university town of Trier, in the Rhineland, was also full. "ACTA impacts on our personal freedom, that is why we are here" said the speaker. A report on Twitter from Stuttgart suggests that the police have tried to break up the protest: it says "Wir sind gegangen bevor die Polizei die Demo auflöst". In Hamburg, demonstrators wore green masks, as well as the now eponymous Guy Fawkes masks, and carried the slogan "Copyright revolunionieren statt Zementieren".
The Cologne anti-ACTA rally in the square outside the famous cathdral. Via Twitter from Matthias Löbach
There was a march going through Brussels. Another went through the main shopping streets of Amsterdam. Photos of the Zurich rally suggest a modest crowd. Another tweet from Switzerland (@lasterisme) states that the police broke up a demonstration in Geneva.
There was a demonstration in Budapest, estimated at around 1000 people. In Hungary, the main focus at the moment is against the new Constitution, which may account for the lower numbers attending the ACTA protest.
Protest against ACTA outside the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest.
A tweet from France says that the doors of the town hall in Bordeaux have been closed in front of the demonstration. It is not clear whether the closure was to prevent demonstrators from doing anything, or simply a symbolic closing of the ears of the authorities. The main day of protest in France was 28 January – videos of the Paris demo.
Based on a limited number of tweets, the London march appears to have left Berners Street, outside the music industry headquarters, and walked down Oxford Street, through Grosvenor Square past the American embassy, and on to Buckingham Palace and Whitehall.
Policy-makers should understand that these protests represent the strength of feeling among young people particularly, who want to keep the Internet free and open, and who resent the implied interference with their freedoms by governments or corporations. ACTA is a framework, which can be used as a tool to pressure European governments into making legal changes that could well the effect that is feared.
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