European Parliament’s Rejection of ACTA Demonstrates Again the Power of Digital Activism

Members of the European Parliament celebrate the defeat of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement
Members of the European Parliament celebrate the defeat of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

© European Union 2012—European Parliament.

Earlier today, the European Parliament voted to reject ACTA, the controversial anti-pirating trade agreement for which Hollywood has pushed heavily. The treaty failed overwhelmingly, with a 478-39 vote.

President Obama and representatives from several other governments endorsed ACTA back in October during a symposium. The EU did not officially sign on then, but it seemed inevitable: “Representatives of the European Union, Mexico, and Switzerland attended the ceremony and confirmed their continuing strong support for and preparations to sign the Agreement as soon as practicable,” said a joint statement issued after the gathering. But when public opinion turned against ACTA, the European Parliament followed suit. While 22 members of the EU previously joined the treaty, today’s vote means that no member country can be part of ACTA, says the BBC.

Timothy B. Lee explains on Ars Technica that ACTA’s failure is a direct result of widespread protests that caught the ear of members of the European Parliament. The people-powered defeat may sound similar to that of SOPA in the United States—and that’s because the movement was inspired by anti-SOPA action, Rick Falkvinge (who founded the first Pirate Party) writes in something of a battle cry on TorrentFreak:

The activism carried over beautifully to defeat this monster. Early February, there were rallies all over Europe, leaving the European Parliament equally shell-shocked.

The party groups turned on a cent and declared their opposition to ACTA in solidarity with the citizen rallies all over the continent, after having realized what a piece of shameless mail-order legislation it really was, to the horrors of the corporate shills who thought this was a done deal. Those shills tried, tried hard, tried right up until today, to postpone the vote on ACTA past the attention of the public and the activists.

Alas, they don’t understand the net. And there’s one key thing right there: the net doesn’t forget.

But the key takeaway here is that it was us, the activists, that made this happen. Everyone in the European Parliament are taking turns to praise all the activists across Europe and the world for drawing their attention to what utter garbage this really was, not some run-of-the-mill rubberstamp paper, but actually a really dangerous piece of proposed legislation. Everybody thanks the activists for that. Yes, that’s you. You should lean back, smile, and pat yourself on the back here.

It’s a further demonstration of how organized action online and off can make a strong impression on politicians, as several members of the European Parliament demonstrated with their post-vote communiqués. “you may stop sending anti-‪#ACTA emails now, thank you,” MEP Marietje Schaake tweeted good-naturedly after the vote. Another MEP, socialist Paul Murphy, told activists, “your protesting won it.” And David Martin, a Scottish member of the European Parliament who publicly fought against the measure, wrote on his blog soon after the vote, “European MPs need to learn from this sorry mess, we need to listen to the people; we need to start again from scratch. We want to fight counterfeiting and we are willing to start working as soon as possible on a good solution one our voters are comfortable with.”

But there’s another narrative here, too: one of politicians mastering how to engage with their constituents via social media. The above picture, showing members of the Green/EFA cohort holding up signs, seems like Twitter bait. It might go against the mores of the U.S. Congress for representatives and senators to show up in T-shirts proclaiming their side of the vote. But when politicians give the people what they want, they might as well do it in flashy fashion.