Europe - Young people fight ACTA
Sebastian Kugler, SLP (CWI in Austria) and Michael KoschitzkiSAV (CWI Germany)
Thousands of young people across Europe have joined protests against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). In Germany, the federal government tried to limit protests by publicly announcing, just before the 11 February day of action, that they will not sign the ACTA agreement and will 're-examine' it. But young people did not believe their promises and came out to show their opposition to internet restrictions.
The ACTA wants more limits to internet usage. If ratified, it will force internet providers to control users and check their data, based on so-called copyright laws.
Users infringing copyright can be cut off from the internet, so copyright owners could stop normal sharing and content-using and possibly end services such as Youtube and Facebook.
Internet usage is being criminalised - in 2011, over 200,000 people in Germany were warned or penalised for downloading music, films, etc. Dresden's state attorney announced plans to impeach users of movie-streaming - previously only providers of movie-streaming were brought to court.
This infuriates young people. On 11 February it provoked the biggest protests in Poland since the mass movement against Stalinist rule. The online-petition against ACTA already had over two million supporters. Demonstrations in Eastern Europe were especially big.
In Germany, there were protests in over 55 cities with around 20,000 participants in Munich. In Austria, protests took place in all the bigger cities. The participants were overwhelmingly teenagers and young students, many of them on their first demonstration.
Many people were mobilised by announcements on file-sharing and movie-streaming websites, although the 'Pirate Party' in Germany and Austria helped popularise the demonstrations by launching an ACTA campaign website. This party got 8.9% in the Berlin state elections and now has up to 9% in national polls.
In Vienna, the right-wing BZO (a split from the FPO) tried to capitalise on the protests. Members of the SLP (CWI members in Austria) confronted the nationalists and handed out leaflets explaining that a fight against ACTA has to be international and anti-racist.
The protests forced the Austrian Conservative Party (OVP) to withdraw support for ACTA. At present it is unclear whether governments will cling to ACTA. The ratification process is already halted in some countries.
However, the "German content alliance", a lobby group of private media companies and even public media, calls for ratification of ACTA and will put pressure on the government.
The EU Commission is reportedly trying to renegotiate an agreement called IPRED (Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive), containing basically the same attacks. If they continue, there will be massive protests .
Young people on these protests also opposed increasing surveillance, and supported internet privacy. Banners mentioned the banning of YouTube videos because of copyright restrictions.
Internet usage plays a big role in many young people's lives and its criminalisation and restrictions could provoke radicalisation and further protests.
Members of the SAV and SLP in Germany and Austria produced leaflets taking up the question of the big entertainment companies' profiteering and demanding nationalisation of them.
It is significant that young people chose the way of mass protest. They have now taken part in a united demonstration, mobilising their friends and fellow school students to take a stand on an issue - and now with evidence of some success.
This will provide important lessons for the battles ahead. As the capitalist crisis steals the prospect of a decent future from even more people, many will seek a way out based on mass resistance.
The protests have forced the European Commission to suspend its efforts to ratify ACTA and instead refer it to the European Court to see whether it "violates any fundamental EU rights".
However, this slight and possibly temporary climbdown should not stop the protests.