Protests erupt across Europe against web piracy treaty

BERLIN/SOFIA Sat Feb 11, 2012 1:54pm EST

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BERLIN/SOFIA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of protesters took part in rallies across Europe on Saturday against an international anti-piracy agreement they fear will curb their freedom to download movies and music for free and encourage Internet surveillance.

More than 25,000 demonstrators braved freezing temperatures in German cities to march against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) while 4,000 Bulgarians in Sofia rallied against the agreement designed to strengthen the legal framework for intellectual property rights.

There were thousands more - mostly young - demonstrators at other high-spirited rallies despite snow and freezing temperatures in cities including Warsaw, Prague, Slovakia, Bucharest, Vilnius, Paris, Brussels and Dublin.

"We don't feel safe anymore. The Internet was one of the few places where we could act freely," said Monica Tepelus, a 26-year-old programmer protesting with about 300 people in Bucharest.

Opposition to ACTA in Eastern Europe is especially strong and spreading rapidly. Protesters have compared it to the Big Brother-style surveillance used by former Communist regimes. Downloading films and music is also a popular way for many young Eastern Europeans to obtain free entertainment.

"Stop ACTA!" read a banner carried by one of the 2,000 marchers in central Berlin, where temperatures were -10 Celsius.

"It's not acceptable to sacrifice the rights of freedom for copyrights," Thomas Pfeiffer, a leader of the Greens party in Munich where 16,000 people protested against ACTA, was quoted telling Focus magazine's online edition on Saturday.

Governments of eight nations including Japan and the United Stated signed an agreement in October aiming to cut copyright and trademark theft. The signing was hailed as a step toward bringing ACTA into effect.

Negotiations over ACTA have been taking place for several years. Some European countries have signed ACTA but it has not yet been signed or ratified in many countries. Germany's Foreign Ministry said on Friday it would hold off on signing.

In Sofia, most of 4,000 demonstrators on Saturday were youths. Some wore the grinning, moustachioed Guy Fawkes masks that have become a symbol of the hacker group Anonymous and other global protest movements.

ACTA aims to cut trademark theft and tackle other online piracy. But the accord has sparked concerns, especially in Eastern European countries as well as in Germany which is sensitive about its history with the Gestapo and Stasi secret police, over online censorship and increased surveillance.

"We want ACTA stopped," Yanko Petrov, who attended the rally in Sofia, told state broadcaster BNT. "We have our own laws, we don't need international acts."

SURVEILLANCE

The protesters are concerned that free downloading of movies and music might lead to prison sentences if the ACTA was ratified by parliaments. They also fear that exchanging material on the Internet may become a crime and say the accord will allow for massive online surveillance.

In Warsaw, some 500 protesters demonstrated, brandishing placards saying "No to ACTA," "Down with censorship" and "Free Internet." Several hundred turned out in the southwestern city of Wroclaw, the Baltic port of Szczecin and Poznan.

In Paris, about 1,000 people marched ACTA. "It's a demonstration without precedent because it's taking place in all of Europe at the same time," said Jeremie Zimmermann, spokesman for Internet freedom group Quadrature du Net.

In Prague, about 1,500 people marched against ACTA. Some waved black pirate flags with white skull and crossed bones, and others wore white masks of the Guy Fawkes character.

Some carried banners against the ACTA treaty such as "Freedom to the Internet" and "ACTA attacks Freedom," and chanted "Freedom, Freedom." Smaller gatherings took place in other Czech cities.

The Czech government has held off on ratification of the ACTA treaty, saying it needs to be analyzed.

Romanian state-news agency Agerpres said 2,000 people protested in the Transylvanian city of Cluj against ACTA, carrying banners that said: "Paws off the Internet."

In Croatia, protests were held in Zagreb, Split and Rijeka, with demonstrators, some masked, carrying banners reading "Stop internet censorship."

A group identifying itself as Anonymous hacked into the webpage of Croatian president Ivo Josipovic, who has defended copyright measures. It remained unavailable for several hours.

It also crashed the pages of ZAMP, a Croatian professional service that looks after the protection of composers' rights and copyright, and the Institute of Croatian Music.

In Bratislava, hundreds of young Slovaks rallied, many also wearing Guy Fawkes masks. About 1,000 people demonstrated in Budapest.

Local media reported about 600 people protested at the government building in Vilnius. Lithuania Justice Minister Remigijus Simasius said in his blog some of ACTA's provisions could pose a threat to Internet freedom.

"I don't know where it (ACTA) comes from and how it originated, but I don't like that this treaty was signed skillfully avoiding discussions in the European Union and Lithuania," Simasius wrote.

(Additional reporting by Gerard Bon in Paris, Jan Lopatka in Prague, Rob Strybel in Warsaw, Padraic Halpin in Dublin, Martin Santa in Bratislava and Ioana Patran in Bucharest, Nerijus Adomaitis in Vilnius, Zoran Radosavljevic in Zagreb, Krisztina Than in Budapest; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Comments (9)
JCB33 wrote:
How dare film makers, artists or anybody that invests in creativity stop us pirating their works for free. I want to be able to walk into my local shop and take what I want without paying, just like millions do on the internet. I don’t care if struggling artists can’t feed their families because of piracy. They should be thankfull we take the time to listen to their music or watch their films. I don’t care if a young director manages to make a small film with promising sales where he might just cover his costs – only for it to be posted on the piratebay and kill any chance he had of paying the cast, cameras, makeup, lighting and moving forward with new projects. In a similar vein I think my boss shouldn’t bother paying me, after all I steal everything so I couldn’t hold it against my boss for doing the same. Why should I be paid for my hard work? Best of all, like the people I steal from,  I am no longer paid and now work for free, thus I am not taxable and no longer contribute to the running of schools, roads and hospitals. 

Feb 11, 2012 3:32pm EST  --  Report as abuse
If people are surprised that corporate profits are being put ahead of individual freedom or even human lives, they haven’t been paying attention.
Intellectual property is interpreted as corporate property. The small business, the guy who writes a tune or a book, the little guy who uses the web – none of these will be significantly helped by ACTA. The huge drug companies, on the other hand, will profit enormously.

Feb 11, 2012 4:58pm EST  --  Report as abuse
OkayMmm wrote:
JCB33 looking pretty ignorant. You think people are protesting ACTA because it prevents them from stealing? Did you even read the article? It’s about much, much bigger things than that. The internet is the single greatest platform for democracy the world has ever seen and to censor it in any way is therefore one of the greatest tragedies the world has ever seen.

Try to learn about these things before you parade your ignorance.

Feb 11, 2012 5:21pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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