Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Nick Griffin MEP has pledged to oppose the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta) when it is put to the vote in the European Parliament next month.

Acta is an international treaty that – on its surface – aims to standardize copyright protection measures, but many critics say it will stifle freedom of speech on the internet.

The treaty has already been signed by 22 EU members, including the UK, but still has to be ratified by the European Parliament in July to become law.

While Acta covers the counterfeiting of physical items, such as pharmaceuticals, it is the measures relating to pirated material on the internet that have caused most concern among campaigners.

So what is wrong with Acta? ‘Who Votes for Acta’, one of the many websites campaigning against the treaty, explains:

‘According to Acta, a suspicion of infringement is enough to demand “information regarding any person involved in any aspect of the infringement or alleged infringement”. In effect, any audio, video, image or text file sent by email or linked to can set in motion what is described in Acta as “prompt and effective provisional measures” regarding anyone who, knowingly or unknowingly, gained access to the file.

‘A simple link that you might click by accident, or a file that you will receive by email may mean that your Internet provider has to disclose your name, address, IP number and other personal data. At the same time, to “prevent an infringement of any intellectual property right from occurring” and to “preserve relevant evidence in regard to the alleged infringement” it will be absolutely legal to cut off your Internet access, as well as take away your computer, hard drives, disks or pendrives in order to examine them by police experts.’

Other possible punishments for contravening Acta include imprisonment and fines.

Acta could also severely limit individuals’ privacy. ‘Who Votes for Acta’ gives an example to illustrate the problem:

‘Let’s say you paid for a photography course and shared information acquired during that course with your friends. You think that what you did was in accordance with fair use. But no, the copyright in each and every country is slightly different. What’s legal in your country can be forbidden in the country where the course was created. Acta eliminates these differences. According to Acta – the execution has to be fast and cheap. The author contacts your country’s police and courts about your copyright infringement and they will apply countermeasures – an allegation is enough. You’ll be treated like a criminal and after that you get to explain yourself.

‘You probably wonder: how would they know you shared information with your friends and no one else? We wrote that Acta introduces a law that orders anyone to provide “information regarding any person involved in any aspect of the … alleged infringement”.

‘Your Internet Service Providers (ISP) or site administrators will not risk their whole business to protect your account. Even more, not to risk being charged as an accomplice (see: megaupload.com case), the administrator or ISP might start to monitor everything on their sites. Control the content and report all of the questionable cases. Privacy in the Internet may stop existing.’

It is easy to see how Acta could be used by corrupt liberal governments to censor freedom of speech and political opposition. Say someone copies and pastes a news item to the comments section of the British National Party website, or posts a link to a YouTube video containing copyrighted music; who would bet against a LibLabCon government using that as an excuse to shut down the site and hit the Party with a massive fine for breaking Acta’s draconian copyright laws?

While the British National Party condemns the unlawful piracy of copyrighted material on the internet and elsewhere, we oppose any ‘solution’ that is in reality just an excuse to invade people’s privacy and censor freedom of expression.

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