Big tech accountability? Read how we got here in  The Closing of the Net 

 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 Media and Academics – please cite as Monica Horten, ACTA – let the battle begin, 13 February  2012 . Commercial users - please contact me.


Iptegrity in brief is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I’ve been analysing analysing digital policy since 2008. Way back then, I identified how issues around rights can influence Internet policy, and that has been a thread throughout all of my research. I hold a PhD in EU Communications Policy from the University of Westminster (2010), and a Post-graduate diploma in marketing.   I’ve served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe  Committee on Internet Freedoms, and was involved in a capacity building project in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. I am currently (from June 2022)  Policy Manager - Freedom of Expression, with the Open Rights Group. For more, see About Iptegrity is made available free of charge for  non-commercial use, Please link-back & attribute Monica Horten. Thank you for respecting this.

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Copyright Enforcement Enigma launch, March 2012

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