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Europe's Internet revolt: protesters see threats in antipiracy treaty

Anger over proposed antipiracy treaty ACTA was expected to bring thousands to Europe's streets today. Supporters say it will better protect intellectual labor, while opponents see free speech threats. 

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"You don't get the same results working on your own. There is skill and labor involved. On this next record, we recorded with [producer] Luke Smith. It wouldn't be the record it is without working with him and others [and] they [the record company] have PR and marketing people getting our name out and getting our music into the hands of [radio] DJs. We couldn't do that on our own."

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Daniel Müllensiefen, psychology lecturer at the University of London, was formerly a consultant with the German music industry. He says the file-sharing genie cannot be put back in the bottle.

"Buying physical records, I think that time is over. It will become a niche market, like vinyl is now. The music industry isn't even seriously trying to fight that anymore. What's going on now is more driven by the film industry," he says.

Politicians backtrack

ACTA has become the latest salvo in an online culture war, and previously supportive politicians have started backtracking in the face of growing anger. 

Michal Boni, Poland's digitization minister, said his country may refuse to ratify the deal, while Slovenia's ambassador to Japan, Helena Drnovsek Zorko, has apologized for signing, saying ACTA "limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history."

In a surprising twist, a group of Polish lawmakers opposed to ACTA hid behind Guy Fawkes masks associated with the "Anonymous" hacker collective during a parliamentary session.

Kader Arif, a French member of the EU Parliament and its lead negotiator on ACTA, quit the position in protest on Jan. 26.

"To be honest, I do not believe ACTA will bring major improvements with regards to this legitimate cause. First of all, the EU is already well-armed against counterfeiting, [and] the main challenge for [digital] industries is to get their rights better protected abroad, and here the sole fact that neither China nor India are signatories of ACTA leaves quite some doubts on the efficiency of the agreement," he wrote in an e-mail.

Mr. Arif also raised concern about generic medicine. 

"Because ACTA is about [intellectual property] infringement in general, generic drugs will be treated under the agreement in the same way as counterfeit drugs, although the two things are completely different. [Counterfeits] poses a real threat to public health, while [generics are] a living necessity for millions of people in developing countries," he said.

It comes down to jobs

The real battle, one that will continue with or without ACTA, is economic. Both sides remain resolute and claim their strategy is the one that creates jobs. Speaking in October, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said ACTA was "essential to American jobs in innovative and creative industries." 

Howard Gantman, spokesperson for the MPAA, says in the US alone, 2.2 million people rely on the film and television industries for their livelihoods.

"The average pay is about $55,000. This is not about stars on the red carpet," he says, adding, "In free [no-cost] marketplaces, there are things that aren't free. You're being mined for data [for targeted advertising] or, in some cases, opening yourself up to malware. You might get the material for no cost, but it's never free." 

Critics remain unconvinced, saying the Internet creates new opportunities and industries: "Any rational person will say the economy needs an open Internet," says Mr. McNamee, of the EDRI lobby group. 

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