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Internet users and government officials in many European countries have been protesting an anti-Internet piracy and intellectual property treaty known as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) with increasing volume.

ACTA would establish a framework for fighting copyright infringement across international borders, be it physical or digital. Opponents of ACTA say it is too far-reaching, and warn that it could lead to a crackdown on small-scale digital piracy and have unintended consequences for generic drugs, which are classified along with counterfeit ones. Critics also worry that it will be up to individual countries to decide what constitutes a “commercial” level of piracy, and say the treaty was drawn up with little public consultation.

The protests follow unprecedented online action against two anti-piracy bills in the U.S. last month, when several major websites, including Google and Wikipedia, blacked out content, and millions of Internet users signed petitions to protest two proposed bills: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), forcing many legislators to withdraw support for the proposed legislation.

A combination of events has combined to fuel a newfound advocacy among ordinary Internet users, say tech lawyers, scholars, and activists. Besides SOPA and PIPA, there was last year’s Wikileaks saga and last month’s coordinated global raid against the file-sharing website Megaupload.

“I think many citizens worldwide connected the dots due to the awareness that SOPA/PIPA and Megaupload got,” says Jeremie Zimmerman, the head of the French Internet advocacy group La Quadrature du Net. “It shone light on ACTA, which ironically came much earlier in time, as it is the blueprint for SOPA/PIPA.”

Last Friday, Polish president Donald Tusk said his government was suspending the ratification process following large street protests in his country. Meanwhile, the Slovenia representative to the treaty apologized for her support, as Anonymous attacked the website of a major Slovenian bank. Members of the Bulgarian parliament also wore the Guy Fawkes masks associated with Anonymous as a means of protest, following the government’s signing of ACTA. Further anti-ACTA protests are scheduled for various European cities on February 11.

The United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan, Morocco, Mexico, Singapore, the European Union, and many other nations are party to the agreement, which will take effect if it’s ratified by at least six members. So far, none have ratified the agreement. Critics say the agreement would stifle freedom of expression online.

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Credit: AP/Fredrik Persson

Tagged: Computing, copyright, piracy, SOPA

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