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Copyright agreement will restrict online free expression, say French MEP and IFEX members

Poland's support for ACTA sparked a series of demonstrations after the signing, including by members of the left-wing Palikot's Movement, who wore masks in Parliament to show their dissatisfaction
Poland's support for ACTA sparked a series of demonstrations after the signing, including by members of the left-wing Palikot's Movement, who wore masks in Parliament to show their dissatisfaction

A French member of the European parliament (MEP) who was in charge of negotiating an international copyright agreement quit his role, calling the agreement's passage a "masquerade" on the same day that it was signed by members of the European Union, reports ARTICLE 19. The agreement would restrict online free expression, say ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The European Union and 22 member states signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) on 26 January, sparking French MEP Kader Arif to denounce the agreement and quit his lead role in the scrutinising process. The signing has yet to be ratified by the European Union parliament, and is scheduled to be debated in June.

Several other industrialised countries - including the U.S., Canada and South Korea - signed the agreement last year, but no country has yet to ratify it into national law.

"MEP Kader Arif's resignation exposes the true extent of the democratic scandal enveloping ACTA," said Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19's executive director. "ACTA is a dangerous agreement for freedom of expression that was brokered in secret. We must urge all MEPs to refuse to sacrifice freedom of expression on the altar of intellectual property."

ARTICLE 19 has been protesting the agreement over fear that it will undermine online freedom and stifle creativity.

ACTA is a far-reaching agreement that aims to harmonise international standards on protecting the rights of those who produce music, movies, pharmaceuticals, fashion, and a range of other products that often fall victim to intellectual property theft.

While it has been significantly changed from earlier versions, removing an earlier demand that would have cut off online access to Internet users who repeatedly infringing copyright should be cut off from the web, it still poses a much greater threat to free expression than the online piracy bills currently before Congress in the U.S., said ARTICLE 19.

"It criminalises everyday and harmless forms of Internet use. It envisages a world in which Internet companies are compelled to spy on users' online activity. It allows intellectual property corporations to recoup astronomic civil damages sums, chilling cultural sharing," warned ARTICLE 19 in a statement.

ARTICLE 19 has also been vocal about the drafting of ACTA, "having been negotiated in secret with industry representatives and excluding civil society." Plus, said ARTICLE 19, not a single EU institution looked at how ACTA would affect fundamental human rights.

"It is perhaps not surprising that ACTA gives disproportionate protections to intellectual property interests at the expense of the rights to freedom of expression and information," said ARTICLE 19.

Thirteen winners of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, including RSF, are also calling on Europe to reject the agreement.

"Forcing companies into private-sector censorship of the Internet with no judicial oversight in order to protect mostly outdated economic models would be a disproportionate violation of freedom of expression, information and communication. Going down such a path is against the very principles on which the European Union was founded," they said in a statement.

RSF adds the agreement could lead to the banning of censorship circumvention tools, which are "indispensable... in Iran and China."

Protests against limits on free expression in the name of protecting intellectual property are quickly gaining momentum. On 18 January thousands of websites - including those of ARTICLE 19 and RSF - went black to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act, bills before Congress that would have had a dire effect on freedom of expression online. Both bills were postponed indefinitely on 20 January in the wake of the largest online protest in history.

ARTICLE 19 is urging all individuals who value Internet freedom to sign the Avaaz international petition for the defeat of the agreement.

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  • Online freedoms threatened by another step towards treaty's adoption, says RSF

    RSF, which defends freedom of information, repeatedly voiced its concerns about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, calling on the negotiators "not to sacrifice online free speech and access to information for the sake of combating piracy and the counterfeiting of works protected by copyright".

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