Protesters have been galvanized in their efforts to stop the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement by recent developments that suggest the treaty may be losing international support just two weeks after 22 European Union member states signed it.
So the world's network of ACTA opponents has declared Saturday, Feb. 11 as a new day of protest, riding a rising tide of international anger over the treaty and its provisions that have the potential to limit Internet freedom, decrease online privacy and even restrict worldwide access to generic drugs.
ACTA would set up an international legal framework to deal with issues of counterfeiting, piracy and other crimes. Instead of dealing with national laws regarding these issues, these nations would be able to adjudicate alleged crimes in a new governing body that would exist outside of the purview of the United Nations and other international institutions.
That scope is one of the main concerns of its opponents, who worry that ACTA would create a new regime of Internet censorship and criminalization of commonplace online activities. So anti-ACTA protesters have taken to the streets and the Web to voice their concerns, which appear to be gaining some traction with international leaders tasked with negotiating the treaty, which its supporters hope to have in place by June.
On Monday the Czech Republic joined Poland in moving to suspend their ACTA ratification processes, despite the fact that both countries are among the 22 that signed the document on Jan. 26.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas said Monday that his government will by no means [allow] a situation where civic freedoms and free access to information would be threatened ... We really must look into the impact it would have in real life.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced his nation's backtrack on Friday, after weeks of sustained anti-ACTA street protests and Web attacks had forced the hand of him and other Polish leaders. The treaty had been opposed from the start even from within the Polish government, as seen in the Jan. 27 move by members of the Ruch Palikota Party to wear Guy Fawkes masks in the Polish parliament in Warsaw to voice their opposition to the nation's signing of the document.
The government of Slovakia also announced on Monday that it is putting the brakes on its plans to ratify the treaty, though it has yet to even sign it in the first place.
In the face of rising anti-ACTA anger, Germany, Netherlands, Slovakia, Cyprus and Estonia declined to sign the treaty during the mass E.U. signing event on Jan. 26, which saw large nations including Spain, Italy and France joining the ACTA team. The five holdout E.U. nations have been mostly expected to ratify the treaty, but their decision not to do so along with their fellow E.U. member states only adds fuel to the conception that momentum to enact the treaty is slowing.
Even French MEP Kader Adif, the lead ACTA negotiator in the European Parliament, has come out hard against the treaty, resigning on Jan. 26 from his post as the treaty negotiator, saying that it goes too far by posing real threats to Internet freedom and access to generic drugs.
The treaty was a sleeping giant for years, emerging briefly in 2011 when WikiLeaks released cables that revealed the details of behind-closed-doors international negotiations that were hashing out a new, worldwide intellectual property paradigm.
But the world has woken up to the problems ACTA and other bills like the United States' SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) could cause, and concerned citizens are coalescing to form an international bloc of opposition to the treaty. In order to get their anti-ACTA message out, the protesters need to bring even more attention to the treaty's possible impacts than was generated by the anti-SOPA advocates, who brought Web giants from Google to Reddit to Wikipedia together in the name of protecting the Web as we know it. Their efforts were a major success, putting enough pressure on politicians who supported SOPA to get the U.S. Congress to shelve it.
But the fight against ACTA will be a harder slog. Many of the world's leading nations have already signed it, and some of their leaders have done so unilaterally, as in the case of U.S. President Barack Obama, who signed the treaty in October without the approval of the U.S. Senate (or anyone else, for that matter.)
Access Now, a group campaigning to stop ACTA, announced of Feb. 1 that Feb. 11 will be an international day of action against ACTA, and hundreds of protest events have been scheduled in nations from the U.S. to Bulgaria to Australia in the days since.
On February 11th, the world will be out in an unprecedented showing of solidarity against ACTA, Access Now writes on its Web site. Protests are being organized all over the globe to show the European Parliament that they must reject ACTA. Though many countries have signed the treaty already, if the EP rejects ACTA, it will be sent into the dustbin on history!
As the world's leaders begin to rethink their support of the controversial treaty, citizens are seizing the moment to see if they can do to ACTA what Americans did to SOPA.
Feb. 11: Mark your calendar.