Europeans protest against ACTA Censorship

Agence France Presse
February 11, 2012

More than 3,000 Bulgarians rallied in Sofia, kicking off a series of European protests on Saturday against a controversial anti-online piracy pact that critics say could curtail Internet freedom.

Rallies were also beginning to get under way elsewhere across Europe against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which was negotiated between the 27-nation European Union and 10 other countries.

The pact is awaiting ratification from several governments, but sharp opposition led by internet users has forced some EU states including Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to freeze their ratification process.

Armed with “Stop ACTA” signs and Anonymous Guy Fawkes masks — a symbol of hacker-led rallies, Bulgarian protesters marched along Sofia’s major downtown boulevards, booing at the buildings of government and parliament.

The mostly young protestors shouted “No to ACTA!” and “Mafia!”, as they accused the government of signing the agreement secretly and without consulting the public.

On Saturday, the European Commission published an eight-page document detailing the negotiation process of the pact, as it sought to defend itself against accusations of opacity.

“The EU strongly denies having provided any kind of preferential access to information to any group of stakeholders,” it said.

“There are also no secret protocols to the agreement and the final text is fully public and available to all citizens on the website of the European Commission,” it added.

ACTA was signed last year in Tokyo, and aims to bolster international standards for intellectual property protection, for example by doing more to fight counterfeit medicine and other goods.

But its attempt to attack illegal downloading and Internet file-sharing has sparked angry protests from users, who fear it could curtail online freedom.

“I am here because I am against censorship on the Internet, against the attempts to limit the freedom of information and against corporate interests which trample human rights,” 27-year-old Maya Nikolova told AFP at the Sofia rally.

Many Bulgarian musicians were also seen in the crowd. They claimed that they rarely ever get any copyright royalties anyway but were ready to sacrifice whatever little they get for the sake of Internet freedom.

Smaller rallies were also held in over a dozen other cities across Bulgaria on Saturday, while a small group on Facebook chose to protest through blood donations.

“Blood is a life-giving power, just as information and ideas are for the web. Join our symbolic way to show that sharing is not a crime but has vital importance,” its organisers called.

Meanwhile, in Paris, hundreds of masked protestors also marched against the accord, shouting “freedom” to the beat of hip-hop.

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