You may (or may not) have noticed that the bottom of The Flame now has a footer which rather boldly declares that we’ve become “A Proud Member of the Internet Defence League”. While we wouldn’t quite have phrased this in the same way ourselves, the issue of internet censorship and our membership of this opposition group is worthy of some further explanation.
Here in Europe it was ACTA that first alerted your everyday Facebooker, Googler and social media user to the threat of internet censorship and pushed them into activism. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was a free standing treaty between 31 countries including Japan, the USA, Ireland and 21 other EU member states. It was designed to enforce and prioritise the “international protect[ion of] intellectual copyright” and shared many similarities with the American bills proposed previously; SOPA and PIPA. Although the treaty could only come into effect after ratification by each signatory country; most government’s avoided the controversy of a democratic vote and forced through the ratification process at the behest of companies like Sony, NBC Universal and Viacom.
Yet due to huge public pressure and anger voiced through petitions, lobbyists, worldwide protests and DOS attacks; the European Parliament overwhelmingly rejected the treaty in a vote during July 2012. In pursuit of a re-vote, the European Commission sought the EU Court of Justice to rule on the treaty’s compatibility with the EU’s founding treaties but the court eventually ruled unfavourably and the second vote was abandoned. This meant that the treaty could no longer take effect on an EU-wide basis, but signatory member states were still free to adopt the treaty themselves.
Although few have followed through on implementing domestic versions of ACTA, it’s worth noting the treaty isn’t quite as dead as pundits might have thought. SOPA and ACTA-like bills are being silently snuck into law in countries across the world such as CETA in Canada and here in Ireland where the Fianna Fail government at the time discretely pushed through its own version. This had the catchy title of; S.I. No. 337/2011 – European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Universal Service and Users’ Rights) Regulations 2011, and was a SOPA style law that is now in our statute books.
Opponents of ACTA and SOPA are a collection of disparate groups which included familiar names like Occupy and Anonymous. They argued that signing and enforcing of the bills would lead to a dramatic altering of the nature of the net and considering the full ramifications of the treaty, it’s hard not to agree with them. The primarily use for the internet is as a portal for the exchange of information, be it through file-sharing of films and music, watching Youtube, or reading and editing Wikipedia. All of these activities and sites infringe upon copyright law in varying degrees and so under ACTA and SOPA they could easily be shut down. Just cast your eyes toward the unlucky comrade with an Eircom connection to see what a loss being unable to access PirateBay is. Even the principles of the Creative Commons, the Free Software Movement, and other Free Culture Movements could come under threat as they undermine the idea that everything needs to be owned, controlled and exploited.
Unlike SOPA and PIPA, however, ACTA didn’t stop with internet censorship. It was far more insidious; worded in such a way as to include a means to implement more thorough and invasive searches of your baggage at airports, bus stations and other public spaces. Although very unlikely for the moment, these searches could include laptops, MP3 players and phones, all under the pretence of “tackling counterfeited goods”. The worst part is, these goods, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders, could include generic medicines and seeds.
These bills and those waiting in the eaves are just another way for big businesses to control how we communicate, organise and keep ourselves informed. Although Clicktavism often gets a bad name, in the USA the participation of Google, Wikipedia and 7000 smaller sites turned the tables on SOPA in a widespread blackout protest. On the 18th of January 2012, 31 representatives opposed the bill. By the 19th, after the blackout, that number rocketed to 101 and the bill was defeated.
It is only through active and visible participation in Free Culture Movements that the looming spectre of SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and the like can be kept at bay, be it online or in person.
About our group:
Unite Youth Dublin are a group of young trade unionists who are involved in political activism and want to build a fighting union which can campaign on progressive issues. We are actively recruiting Unite members so if you’re interested in getting involved then give us a shout by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re not a Unite member and wish to join then please read this page to learn more. We are an informal and independent group that makes decisions collectively, join us to get your voice heard and to begin the process of striking back.