|Killock believes the IP system will be stronger if it is more widely accepted
Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group agrees that many of the protests this year against ACTA were naïve. "When some people start thinking about issues such as freedom online, they leap to quite extreme conclusions," he says. "And most didn't understand the details of the agreement."
The quiet but eloquent executive director of the British campaign group argues, however, that politicians were also naïve in not realising how big an issue online freedom had become for people: "The thing they have to understand is that people feel they have gained huge amounts of freedom from the internet, whether that's freedom to share music or to talk, discuss and organise." That makes people sensitive to agreements such as ACTA, "whose agenda is clearly to gain greater control over the internet and create more regulatory mechanisms," he argues.
The Open Rights Group played a central role in the London branch of protests that spread across Europe in January and February this year. The biggest protests took place largely spontaneously across Poland, with tens of thousands reacting to Prime Minister Donald Tusk signing ACTA in Tokyo. A few days later Tusk announced he was suspending ratification of the agreement.
"When some people start thinking about issues such as freedom online, they leap to quite extreme conclusions"
The following week there were more than 100 protests around Europe, and on February 11 another swathe took in the London protest at which Killock was a participant. Although the UK has yet to back down at all on ACTA, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Germany all suspended their ratification processes. Five committees in the European Parliament recommended that ACTA should be rejected. And, as Managing IP went to press, the Parliament voted overwhelmingly in plenary to reject the agreement.
Yet ACTA had been watered down so much in negotiation that it would have made little difference to regulation of copyright or other IP rights in many EU countries. In the UK, the Digital Economy Act 2010 had already introduced stronger rules – even though its implementation has now been pushed back to 2014 following legal challenge from internet service providers BT and TalkTalk.
So why is there this level of misunderstanding on both sides? "I think the impact of regulating aspects of the internet has taken many by surprise," says Killock. "Even other protest groups didn't realise how broad the effects would be – on everything from privacy to the ability of people to create new art or media online."
That is one reason Open Rights Group spends most of its time and resources on educational work, including distributing information, meetings in pubs around the country and social media. But although the Group is relatively new to active protest, Killock firmly believes that ACTA has shown how important it is. "Protests make politicians, rulemakers and others realise how strongly opinions are held. This isn't just a thought some people have, or a preference. It is important enough for them to give up their time, stand outside and shout about it."
The Group was founded in 2005 by 1,000 digital activists as a not-for-profit organisation that takes on all aspects of rights online, such as freedom of expression, privacy and consumer rights. Although it is funded by groups including the Open Society Institute and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, most of its funds come from individual supporters. Those supporters now number 1,400 paying, with a further 32,000 members.
Should IP owners be afraid? "I hope that they do not see the defeat of ACTA as a vote against intellectual property. It was more a rejection of a high-handed, secretive agreement. There is always a place for intellectual property but any future agreement needs to be more transparent and include clear guarantees of civil liberties," says Killock. "Any push for privatisation of enforcement will also be strongly resisted."
The biggest issue in the next few years in the UK will be the Hargreaves review of copyright. "I think it has the potential to introduce some real freedoms for citizens and businesses, such as exceptions around the creation and use of works online," Killock says. "I would also argue that these reforms will strengthen IP, because the more reasonable and flexible the rules are, the more legitimate they are. And rules that are seen as more legitimate are more stable and stronger."
This, perhaps, is the greatest lesson for IP owners and their associations. The fight today is not for effective enforcement, but real legitimacy. ACTA's death shows the unpredictable, uncontrollable and possibly counter-intuitive results of getting that wrong.
Hargreaves responses attack its numbers
MEPs: why we voted against ACTA court referral
Shock around Europe as ACTA falls apart
ACTA worries raised at the WTO
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