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ACTA Would Put Europe in the Dark Ages of Internet Freedom

Yesterday, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) within the European Parliament announced they would oppose the passing of the controversial anti-piracy bill known as ACTA. Their opposition is instrumental in the prevention of the bill from being approved and enacted by members of the European Union. While this isn’t the death knell for ACTA, it’s a step in the right direction to defeating yet another attempt at invasive, illegitimate legislation aimed at the Internet.

For those of you who don’t know, ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, is essentially the European version of SOPA and PIPA – legislation aimed at eradicating the presence of online piracy with broadly-defined criteria allowing censorship and invasions of privacy. Unlike the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which would have forced websites to actively monitor their content, and delete anything that vaguely resembled copyright infringement (goodbye YouTube…); ACTA takes a more proactive approach. European data protection supervisors said in a statement that ACTA, “could involve the large-scale monitoring of users' behavior and of their electronic communications,”: an effort to stem the tide of online piracy, a violation of Europeans’ civil liberties.

In fact, this potential violation could mean ACTA may not even have a chance to appear for a vote in the European Parliament. The European Court of Justice – you know, as opposed to the Court of Injustice – has brought the bill up for review on the grounds that it may contain provisions that violate European law. Of course, no respectable court would rule in favor of such an egregious violation of personal liberty, so ACTA will probably meet its end there. However, the ruling could take up to a year.

In the meantime, the bill will come to a vote in the European parliament. This is where ALDE’s opposition becomes so important. While the majority of nations in the EU have approved the bill, many citizens have come out against it. ALDE’s opposition is significant because it commands a sizeable amount of the politicians — a little over 10% — voting on ACTA. In addition to ALDE, numerous politicians from other parties will join in the vote against ACTA, and will most likely be enough to prevent it from being enacted.

ACTA obviously isn’t the first of these types of bills, and it certainly won’t be the last. Recently, the proposed internet-security bill the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) has met with controversy concerning how broadly it defines “cyber threats”. Fortunately, the Obama administration has promised to veto the bill should Congress pass it. 

But, there will be more. It’s easy to see why; music and movie companies, producers, musicians, actors, writers, and other content providers are legitimately concerned about lost revenues. Their products are being illegally disseminated to anyone who wants to access them, and there’s very little they can do about it.

However, the answer isn’t to pass bills that sacrifice the fundamental rights of privacy possessed by citizens, in a questionably effective attempt to preserve the profits of producers. No one denies that producers deserve to be compensated for their work. But internet users are equally entitled to their privacy. Moreover, any idea that these bills would do away with piracy is foolish; Megaupload, a major downloading site, was taken down months ago, without the need of invasive legislation. Did it make a dent in piracy? No.

What we have on the Internet is ethical inconvenience; piracy of software and digital media is simply always going to exist. Perhaps the solution lies in a new mechanism of distribution and a new means of profiting; free content but with ads? Who knows. But turning to legislation like ACTA, SOPA, or CISPA is morally irresponsible, illegal, and ineffective.

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