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The opening shots are being fired in the European Parliament in what could be a bloody but exciting political battle over copyright enforcement on the Internet and ACTA. The first casualty has already been claimed, as the rapporteur, Kader Arif, threw in the towel under pressure from what he termed the 'right of the Parliament'. His replacement wants to put the matter to ECJ. Their party group, the Socialists, has issued out a statement opposing ACTA. The political re-positioning, combined with the citizens actions this week-end, has put the wind up the rights-holders, who are mounting a charm- offensive.

The Socialist group has called on the European Parliament to vote against ACTA. The vote is technically known as 'consent; but effectively it means the Parliament must either accept ACTA or reject it. However, it is not clear when the vote will be, or even if the Parliament has yet been given the official go-ahead to prepare for it.

The Socialists have committed to what it calls a 'long term campaign' to rid ACTA of the risks to free speech and to the Internet.

The president of the European Parliament Socialist group, Sergei Stanishev said in a statement that "the ACTA proposal is wrong in both content and process. It does not reflect the interest of citizens but the nterests of big corporations ad profit margins: it confers on them alarmingly broad powers to punish and restrict. We cannot allow this legislation to privatize Internet governance and limit fundamental freedoms. Intellectual property rights must be guaranteed, but not at the expense of the rights of the citizens."

He added that they do "not support the type of extreme censorship as proposed by ACTA, and regrets that the conservative majority in the European Parliament have shut down any opportunity to conduct a clear and fair debate at social and political level."

The indications are that the ACTA battle could be quite vicious, with the Parliament split over it. It's likely that that there will be fissures with the party groups. The Liberals are said to be split. The Socialists will have an issue with the British Socialists, who under the Labour government would have been bound to support measures such as ACTA. It may well be that some of them still do, whilst others, such as the new rapporteur, David Martin, clearly takes a more measured approach.

David Martin is a canny Scot. In a statement on his own website, he says he is prepared to take ACTA to the European Court of Justice for an opinion, if necessary. He wants an open and transparent debate. His first challenge will be to chair a public workshop on 1 March. He told the Financial Times that the vote on ACTA could have to wait until Spring 2013, if an ECJ opinion is asked for.

There are some who won't like that. Rumours suggest that some MEPS and NGOs want to push the vote soon, whilst public opinion is building to tip the vote in favour of an effective rejection. There is a fear that a delay could allow government to slip ACTA under the political net when public and NGO interest in the issue moves on to the next thing.

MEPs have been the target of citizen emails over recent weeks, and it is said that the European Parliament website was taken down in an attack. And then there were the street protests, culminating in Europe-wide demonstrations this week-end just gone.

The rights-holders are just possibly a little unnerved by the citizen protestsl. They are responding by mounting a lobbying campaign. An email, signed by a coalition of rights-holder groups, is being sent to MEPs today or tomorrow. The rights-holder email is understood to be calling for a 'calm and reasoned debate' on ACTA and urging the avoidance of 'hysteria'.

Certainly, this ACTA battle is bringing in new actors.

An email petition is aiming for 2 million signatures was organised by group calling themselves Avaaz, an American multi-cause group that is new to European Internet issues. It is unclear who funds them or who is behind them - at least, I couldn't find it on their website. Another group, called Access Now, which also appears to be American, has emerged. I've also been unable to find out who funds them. As American groups, they have little clout in the European political context.

It is not clear who is behind the street protests. The charasmatic La Quadrature du Net, who do have clout, were involved in France. But outside France, it is not so clear. In some cases, the national citizens groups, such as Germany's powerful and experienced AK Vorrat, and Holland's Bits of Freedom, were involved. Sources in the NGO sector suggest that the group Anonymous is behind the eastern European demonstrations, and possibly the British one. Anonymous is the hacker group who previously brought down the Mastercard and Visa websites, following the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. (See Did EU Internet restrictions prompt Operation Payback? )

All in all, it promises to be an exciting fight - hotter than the Telecoms Package battle of 2008-2009. (For the Telecoms Package battle over copyright see my book The Copyright Enforcement Enigma ).

So fasten your seat-belts, grab a brandy, and enjoy the ride!

You may re-publish my article under a Creative Commons licence, but you should cite my name and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics - please cite as Monica Horten, ACTA - let the battle begin, www.iptegrity.com 13 February 2012 . Commercial users - please contact me.

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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor, with expertise in online safety, technology and human rights. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

Iptegrity.com is made available free of charge for non-commercial use. Please link back and attribute Dr Monica Horten.  Contact me to use any of my content for commercial purposes.  

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