The signature of ACTA, short for Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, by 22 EU member states has sparked a heated controversy and widespread protests across Europe. In the Czech Republic, hundreds of internet users took to the streets in Prague and other cities, while hackers associated with the group Anonymous have attacked websites of the government, political parties and copyrights holders associations. In neighboring Poland, the ratification of the agreement was even put on ice after widespread protests and attacks on government websites. The controversial agreement aims to protect intellectual property on the internet, but many fear it will lead to online surveillance and internet censorship. New media and technology journalist Petr Kočí speaks about ACTA and how it is perceived in the Czech Republic.
“I think the main point of criticism concerns the way it was negotiated, because the negotiations started as early as 2006, and the first time the internet public learned of this agreement, which can have such a great impact on the way we use the internet everyday was two or three years later, after several rounds of these negotiations, and it was only because of leaked documents on the wikileaks website. So the critics mainly point to the fact that it is quite problematic to negotiate new rules that will greatly affect the internet without the participation of internet users and under suspected heavy influence of recording industry lobbyists.”
How exactly will the average user be affected if ACTA is passed?
“We can’t really be sure of this now. It is an international agreement and it depends on how the individual countries will adopt it and implement it in their law. For example in the case of the Czech Republic, former minister of industry and trade Martin Kocourek, when he announced that the ACTA negotiations are finished, said that there will be no single change in the Czech law as a result of the signing of the agreement.
“But the agreement is worded quite vaguely and unclearly, and it does open possibilities for changes. So, for example, in the agreement, governments promise that they will grant the copyright holders access to data of users who attempt to illegally download their content from the internet. That is a major change, because up until now, they had to wait for a court decision to get these data and even then, the data weren’t given to the companies who hold the copyright but to police and investigators. And now it should be shared with the copyright owners and the investigators without a prior court decision, and that is a major change.”
The Czech Republic signed ACTA without much public debate and now, protests here are spreading. How opposed are Czechs to ACTA, compared to other European countries?
“I would say that the matter is so complicated that many people decide emotionally rather than reading the agreement. Also, there aren’t enough legal experts or government officials explaining what exactly it might mean for the average internet user. So I would say that a large majority of internet users is instinctively against ACTA, because it is a new rule that seems to be threatening internet freedom and the protests spring from this feeling. They do appear larger in the media than they are in reality.”