January 28, 2012

EU Signing Of ACTA Leads To Protests, Resignations, Threats

A controversial piece of legislation designed to prevent counterfeiting, piracy, and copyright theft has been approved by the executive body of the European Union (EU), leading to protests in several countries, the resignation of a top official, and threats of retaliation from an infamous group of hackers.

According to Forbes Contributor E.D. Kain, Contributor, the bill, known as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), was signed by the European Commission on Thursday.

Kain and Wired UK's Olivia Solon report that 22 EU members -- the UK, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden -- signed the treaty, which promises stricter penalties for intellectual property theft and still must be ratified by the European parliament.

A pre-ratification debate has been scheduled for June, according to Forbes.com.

"The EU now joins other signatories Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the US, who signed up to the treaty in October 2011," Solon wrote on January 26.

The signing of ACTA prompted the resignation of Kader Arif, who had been service as the rapporteur (or lead investigator/representative) responsible for the legislation in the European Parliament.

In a statement reprinted Friday by Matt Warman, Consumer Technology Editor for the Telegraph, Arif said,  “I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement: no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, exclusion of the EU Parliament's demands that were expressed on several occasions in our assembly.”

"I will not take part in this masquerade," he added.

Protests over the controversial set of regulations also broke out throughout Europe, Kain said -- particularly in Poland, where citizens and government officials alike demonstrated their displeasure with ACTA by donning Guy Fawkes masks, the de facto symbol of the hacking collective known as Anonymous, Forbes and BBC News said.

Speaking of Anonymous, Warman notes that the organization has vowed to launch a "huge operation" in response to the European Commission's approval of ACTA. In response to similar legislation in the U.S. (SOPA and PIPA), the group launched distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against several government and entertainment websites, including the FBI and the Department of Justice.

According to a European Commission website, ACTA "does not restrict freedom of the Internet" and "will not censor or shut down websites." Rather, they claim that the treaty "ensures people everywhere can continue to share non-pirated material and information on the Web" and "that organized crime can be pursued when intellectual property is stolen -- harming innovation, fair competition and destroying your jobs."

They add that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter will not be affected, and that computers, tablets, and smartphones will not be monitored by the government.

However, while "some of the most hostile elements of ACTA, such as the threat to deprive users of web access, have been removed in recent drafts," Warman says that "criminal penalties for copyright infringement, or aiding and abetting it, have been negotiated behind closed doors."


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