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ACTA Threatens Your Freedom

Richard Stallman

February 2012

first published in Poland, by Tygodnik Powszechny.

ACTA was written secretly by governments together with business; in effect, a conspiracy to restrict the people for business' sake. There were leaks, and public condemnation removed some proposed nasty provisions, but plenty more remain.

The proponents of ACTA use the term "intellectual property", which is meant to discourage clear thinking. That term refers to ten or more unrelated laws, which at the practical level have nothing in common. The term focuses on an irrelevant abstract similarity, and distracts attention from the real issues raised by one law or another.

A few of those laws have one point in common: megacorps want to change them to gain more power over future competition or the public, and ACTA is their latest try. ACTA has different rules for each law. The term "intellectual property" misrepresents the facts about ACTA.

ACTA's main effect in Europe would be on copyright law. ACTA gives copyright priority over human rights. It gives priority to copyright holders over the users of copyrighted works.

When the copyright lobby demands increased power to stop sharing, it bases the argument on exaggerated, unlikely claims of what they "lose" when people share. ACTA legitimizes these absurd claims, even in court, so you could be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of euros of imaginary "damages" for a little bit of file-sharing.

ACTA says governments can ask ISPs for "cooperation", which can include surveillance, filtering, deletion of pages, even punishment of users without a fair trial. Meanwhile, ISPs, hosting sites and search engines could be prosecuted if they do not censor.

Many aspects of ACTA are vague. For instance, it says governments must attack “means of widespread distribution for infringing purposes”. Will this ban blogging platforms? Bittorrent? File locker sites? Who knows?

Some aspects of ACTA are dishonest -- blackwhiting, to use Orwell's term (see 1984). For instance, it imposes criminal punishment on noncommercial copying by tying it to the word "commercial". Specifically, it says copying is "commercial scale" if it provides "direct or indirect economic or commercial advantage". What counts as "indirect economic advantage"? Arguably the benefit of not buying a second copy of something is enough to make noncommercial copying a crime.

Given ill will shown when governments negotiated ACTA, we must judge it by the worst possible interpretation. ACTA can be interpreted to make it a crime to share copies with your friends. Will the copyright lobby go to court and argue for this interpretation? Surely. Will it win? Don't give it the chance!

Some politicians say that ACTA is not something to fear, but they can't know what ACTA will morph into. One of the disasters of ACTA is that it can be altered later by agreement among the countries involved. In effect, these governments will together have the power to bypass their parliaments. To ratify ACTA is to give carte blanche to a rigged process.

The Internet needs some rules, but who should decide them? Traffic rules for cars should be decided democratically by the people, not written secretly by railroads. The Internet rules should be decided democratically by the people, with human rights as the first priority, and the people must reserve the right to relax rules if they prove too strict. That means, the rules must not come from ACTA! What should these rules be?

Copyright companies have too much power already; they have made copyright too strict. They are not satisfied and seek more power through ACTA, but that would be a change in the wrong direction. Their laws cause problems for us, and it is our turn now to be considered. Our governments must reduce copyright power: shorten copyright to 10 years, legalize noncommercial redistribution of exact copies (sharing), ban Digital Restrictions Management (the malicious features that turn digital devices into handcuffs), and ban EULAs on published digital works. Then we could consider small concessions to the copyright companies.

Copyright 2012 Richard Stallman Released under the CC-BY-ND 3.0 license