Stallman Says ACTA Punishes Internet Users

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Free Software Foundation president Richard Stallman is leading the charge against the ACTA rules proposed to curb illegal file-sharing

In a declaration published this week, Free Software Foundation (FSF) president Richard Stallman said that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) unfairly punishes suspected file-sharers and could block anti-digital rights management software.

“ACTA threatens, in a disguised way, to punish Internet users with disconnection if they are accused of sharing, and requires countries to prohibit software that can break Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), also known as digital handcuffs,” said Stallman.

A draft version of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was published in April. The publication follows criticism froml freedom campaigners that the negotiations on the legislation were happening in secret. The backers of the proposed legisation claim that it is not about limiting the freedom of computer users but tackling serious cyber-crime.

Not About Harassing Consumers

“ACTA is about tackling activities pursued by criminal organisations, which frequently pose a threat to public health and safety. It is not about limiting civil liberties or harassing consumers,” a statement from the stakeholders involved in ACTA claimed in April.

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But the FSF maintains that the threat to cut off suspected file-sharers still remains. “Now that some details of ACTA have been made public, we know that our previous concerns were justified,” said FSF’s operations manager John Sullivan. “We are asking the free software community to join us in speaking out against this attack on the public’s freedom, and I hope that people will not only sign the statement, but also write and publish their own specific thoughts about the issues.”

The software campaigner is calling for users to sign a petition against ACTA which can be found here. “This is a time for people to show — in as many ways as possible — that they value the freedoms ACTA threatens. The more signatures and visible support we have, the weaker ACTA will look.”

But according to the EU, the ACTA rules, as they stand, do not specify the idea of cutting off Internet users after repeated copyright infringements . “No party in the ACTA negotiation is proposing that governments should introduce a compulsory ‘3 strikes’ or ‘gradual response’ rule to fight copyright infringements and internet piracy,” the European Commission stated in April

Commenting on the draft version of the proposed rules released in April, EU trade minister Karel De Gucht reiterated that it was not about punishing the average computer user. “The text makes clear what ACTA is really about: it will provide our industry and creators with better protection in overseas markets which is essential for business to thrive. It will not have a negative impact on European citizens,“ said De Gucht.

Spying On iPods

At one time, it was believed that ACTA would allow governments to scan iPods and laptops for illegal pirated content at border points. That claim has since been rejected by lawmakers. “EU customs, frequently confronted with traffics of drugs, weapons or people, do not have the time or the legal basis to look for a couple of pirated songs on an iPod music player or laptop computer,” the agreement’s backers claimed in a recent statement.

But the European authorities have also criticised content creators for not backing legitimate online platforms for distributing digital material. Speaking in April via a video conference with EU Telecoms and Information Society Ministers, European Commission vice-president for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said that the failure of governments and content producers to agree on common standards and platforms across Europe was directly contributing to illegal file-sharing. “For the moment one could almost say that the only existing Digital Single Market for audiovisual material is the illegal one,” she said.

Indepently of the ACTA negotiations, governments are implementing anti-copyright laws. In the UK, the Digital Economy Act, designed in part to curb illegal file-sharing, was passed in the last days of the Labour government. The regulator, Ofcom, has produced draft rules designed to implement the Act, which include a version of the three strikes idea.

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