The German federal government attempted to prevent protests developing there just before the international day of action against “ACTA” on 11 February. They publicly announced that they will not sign the ACTA agreement, but will re-examine it. Taking into account that dozens of demonstrations against ACTA had been announced, the government hoped to limit the participation. However, their promises were not believed and young people took the opportunity to demonstrate their opposition to internet restrictions.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was secretly negotiated between 2008 and 2011. While the agreement aims for higher restrictions on internet usage it deals also with “counterfeited” goods. This will affect important areas like healthcare and food production. ACTA, if ratified, will force internet providers to control users and check their data based on so-called copyright laws. Users who infringe copyright can be cut off from the internet. This gives copyright-owners the opportunity to stop normal sharing and content-using. People thus fear that this agreement would lead to the end of the likes of Youtube and Facebook as we know them.
This is taking place alongside the further criminalisation of internet usage. In 2011, over 200.000 people in Germany were warned or penalised legally for downloading music, films etc. The state attorney of Dresden announced plans to impeach users of movie-streaming. They have already collected data from tens of thousands of users. Before now, only providers of movie-streaming were brought to court. While the multinationals make billions of euros out of music and films, young people who can’t afford to pay for them are criminalised.
Protest against ACTA
This infuriates young people around the world. 11 February was an international day of action against ACTA. After big demonstrations in Poland, where this issue provoked the biggest protests since the mass movement against Stalinist rule, people felt that this call could be successful. The Online-Petition against ACTA already had over 2 million supporters. In Germany, protests took place in over 55 cities. The largest demonstration was in Munich, with around 20,000 participants. This was followed by demonstrations in Berlin (10,000) and a large number of demonstrations with over 1,000 people participating.
In Austria, protests took place in all of the bigger cities, including 4,000 in Vienna and 3,000 in Graz. While protests took place in every European country, the demonstrations in Eastern Europe were especially big.
The participants were overwhelmingly teenagers and young students, dominantly male. For a large part of them, it was their first demonstration. Others had been on demonstrations against nuclear power and “occupy” protests before, as could be seen through posters and ‘Guy Fawkes’ masks’.
While many people where mobilised by announcements on filesharing and movie-streaming websites, the ‘Pirate Party’ in Germany and Austria played a role in popularizing the demonstrations. The Pirate Party got 8.9% of the Berlin state elections and now has up to 9% in national polls. They launched an ACTA campaign website and prepared some of the demonstrations. However, left-wing groups were also present and helped in the preparations. In Austria, particularly in Vienna, right wing groups like the BZO (a split from the right wing FPO) tried to capitalise on the protests. Members of the SLP confronted the nationalists and handed out leaflets explaining that a fight against ACTA has to be international and anti-racist. As a consequence of the protests, heads of the Austrian Conservative Party OVP withdrew their support for ACTA.
Youth in revolt?
At the moment it is unclear whether the different governments will cling to ACTA. The ratification process is already halted in a number of countries. On the other hand, the “Deutsche Content Allianz“ (German content alliance), a lobby group of private media companies and even public media, call for a ratification of ACTA and put pressure on the government. ‘Anonymous’ also reported that the EU-Commission is trying to renegotiate an agreement called IPRED (Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive), which will contain basically the same attacks. If they continue, one way or another there will be massive protests against it. Even now, new protests have been called for 25 February. They might be as big as the protests on the 11th.
ACTA wasn’t the only subject concerning young people on these protests. People protested against increasing surveillance, and for internet privacy. A number of signs mentioned the banning of youtube videos because of copyright restrictions. Internet usage, criminalisation and restrictions play a significant role in the day to day lives of many young people. Thus, this will also be an issue which could provoke radicalisation of young people and further protests. CWI Leaflets which took up the question of the big entertainment companies’ profiteering, demanding nationalisation, were well received on these demonstrations.
But also the fact that young people have chosen the way of mass protest is significant. One poster just said: “For now, we are merely angry”. Through this movement, a number of young people have gained the experience of participating in a united demonstration, mobilising friends and school fellows to protest, taking a stand on an issues, now with evidence of some success. This will provide important lessons for the battles ahead, with the capitalist crisis stealing the prospect of a decent life and future from even more people, who will seek a way out based on mass resistance.