On Jan. 18, 2012, neglected encyclopaedias were taken down from bookshelves, as Wikipedia.com closed its virtual doors to people in the English-speaking world. They did so in protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), two pieces of prospective U.S. legislation regarding the use of copyright material on the Internet. Now a similar storm is brewing in Europe over an international treaty known as ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement).
SOPA and PIPA were highly controversial and have since been withdrawn, but the issues they raised are still relevant. The focus of the Internet battleground has therefore now shifted to Europe, where the European Parliament is currently scrutinising ACTA.
Those interested parties are now looking at ACTA. The European Union (EU) is keen to stress that ACTA will not create new intellectual property rights, laws or criminal offences. Its aim is to establish efficient and broadly common rules for how intellectual property right-holders can enforce their rights in practice in all of the signatory countries. But not everybody sees it that way. In February, large-scale demonstrations took place on the streets of Germany, Poland and the Netherlands, and the EU Parliament received a petition against ACTA signed by more than 2.4 million Internet users. Many of the protestors feel that the treaty is draconian. They also object to the seemingly clandestine process that brought it about.
Indeed, although ACTA has only recently made the news, it is reportedly the result of years of international negotiations behind closed doors and has already been signed (but not yet ratified) by 31 countries including the U.S ., Japan and 22 EU nations.