European Commission Blames Social Networks For ACTA Failure; Worried About Its Imminent Directive On Copyright Enforcement

from the still-not-listening dept

Now that the EU’s ratification of ACTA has departed from the original script of everyone just waving it through, the European Commission is clearly trying to come up with Plan B. Some insights into its thinking can be gained from the minutes (pdf) of a recent Commission meeting, pointed out to us by André Rebentisch.

Here’s what the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said about ACTA:

The President introduced the topic, commenting on the intensity and scale of the public debate and the organised campaign against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). There were those in particular who felt that the agreement would lead specifically to an unwarranted restriction on freedom of expression and democracy on the Internet, and would distort the reasonable balance between intellectual property rights and other fundamental rights.

He therefore felt that the Court of Justice of the European Union should be asked to confirm the Commission’s position in this matter, namely that ACTA was consistent and compatible with the Treaties and with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. He suggested that that day’s discussion should consider that point, but also the question of when would be an appropriate time to refer the matter to the Court, and the possibility of consulting Parliament and the Council with a view to adopting a common approach in this matter.

The suggestion that the anger over ACTA was somehow part of an “organised campaign” looks like a continuing failure to grasp that the protests were about all Internet users across Europe coming together to defend their online community. As for the “common approach” with the European Parliament, it’s easy to see why the European Commission would want this: it would allow the referral of ACTA to the European Court of Justice to be framed in such a way as to increase the likelihood of a positive response from the court. It will be interesting to see whether the European Parliament acquiesces in this, or continues to take a hard line on the need for more searching questions to be asked.

Barroso’s comments were followed by some observations from Karel De Gucht, the European Commissioner with direct responsibility for ACTA, who made some revealing remarks:

He noted that opposition had increased in the run-up to January’s planned vote in the US Congress on two legislative initiatives — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) — aimed at increasing the protection of intellectual property rights on the Internet; in the end the vote had not been held, following a hostile campaign by social networks and the loss of White House support.

It’s interesting to see De Gucht linking the growing hostility to ACTA with the storm generated by SOPA/PIPA, and giving the credit for stopping those US bills to a “hostile campaign” waged by social networks. You can tell this really worries him, because he says something similar about social networks and ACTA immediately afterwards:

Despite the signature of ACTA in January by the Commission, the Union Presidency and twenty-one other Member States, the intense media campaign which was unleashed in Europe, instigated largely by the social networks, had since led a number of Union Heads of State or Government to decide to delay signature or ratification of the agreement by their national parliaments. He added that the campaign had also had a considerable influence on Members of the European Parliament and, following recent contacts with various political groups, he now felt it would be difficult to muster a majority in favour of ACTA within the EP.

What’s extraordinary is that no less than three other commissioners also spoke at the meeting about the importance of social networks, and the need to grapple with them.

Viviane Reding:

She concluded by highlighting the rising influence of social networks on the Internet and the need for the Commission to take account of this in its communication policy and in dealing with various dossiers. Instructions had already been given to the communication units in the Directorates-General.

Neelie Kroes:

She concluded by stressing the need for appropriate communication on the agreement, without waiting for the Court’s opinion, targeted particularly at the various stakeholders involved and social networks.

Michel Barnier:

was also of the opinion that the key role of social networks in public debate in Europe forced the Commission to think carefully about adapting some of its means of communication and that Members should discuss the matter as soon possible.

What emerges very clearly from this is that the most senior politicians in the European Union are completely nonplussed by the power of social networks to mobilize not just Net activists but ordinary Internet users, and are struggling to deal with it. I think we can expect to see attempts to neutralize that new force by “reaching out” to social networks in a variety of ways in the coming months. One area where that will clearly happen is for the forthcoming update on the EU’s “IPR Enforcement Directive“, generally known as IPRED. The Commission meeting referred to it explicitly:

As regards the planned revision of the 2004 Directive on enforcement of intellectual property rights, the Commission needed to adopt a prudent and balanced approach to this politically delicate exercise, and take account of existing texts on the protection of data and privacy in the areas of telecoms and fundamental rights.

The EC knows that it must be very careful here, because the measures already mooted for the next version of IPRED are very close to some of SOPA’s bad ideas — for example, turning ISPs into copyright cops. The European Commission has observed what happened in the US, and is clearly very concerned that the IPRED update will meet the same opposition from those mysterious, uncontrollable social networks as SOPA/PIPA did and ACTA is now doing.

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Comments on “European Commission Blames Social Networks For ACTA Failure; Worried About Its Imminent Directive On Copyright Enforcement”

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Dionaea (profile) says:

Re: Re: They just forgot

“He added that the campaign had also had a considerable influence on Members of the European Parliament and, following recent contacts with various political groups, he now felt it would be difficult to muster a majority in favour of ACTA within the EP.”

Luckily the EP members seem to remember they’ve been elected (and want to get votes next time around). So at least there’s some hope.

Ninja (profile) says:

It’s amusing how they think it’s the social networks doing as if the social networks were some sort of bogeyman with a defined form. The same mistake they are making with Anonymous and Occupy movements (one is part of the other but both are manifestations of a greater issue: the social/financial problems of the ppl).

At least they ‘created’ an entity to put the ‘blame’ on, in the US they still think it’s Google’s fault.

Andrew (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, I was thinking the same thing. I’m not sure if it’s just a poor choice of language in the minutes, but social networks were no more responsible for organising these protests than town squares were in the past.

Of course it’s true that they enable communication and the flow of ideas in ways that hasn’t been possible before, but it’s the people on those networks they must address – and their concerns – not the networks themselves.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ninja, Andrew … Big Ole Grin … you guys actually get it.

The thing you should realize is, unlike the town square, the internet is global. It accelerates things along at a much greater rate than in the past. It shortens the length of time it takes for things to reach a boiling point.

What these EU politicians fail to realize is that an ad campaign, or any bull shit attempts at engaging social networks will not work. It will be seen through. They will spend their time writing the perfect press release, only to have people mock it.

Chris From Poland says:

They do not understand the idea that people from the 21st century are no longer interested in official political parties and movements, but rather, create improvised, dynamic ad-hoc interest groups out of the blue for their particular needs and then dismantle them when no longer needed. The old dudes in the govenrmnent need to see and feel something “tagible” (at least as tangble as a social network) and identifiable. “We, the people” is not something they can comprehend.

Adam Bell (profile) says:

Re: "We, the people" is not something they can comprehend.

This is the crux of the whole matter — governments are only gradually coming to grips with the notion that the Internet has given ordinary people an instantaneous voice. The old school still believe that they were elected in place of the people who elected them, that their judgement replaces that of their electors and that they don’t have to worry about the electorate until the next election. That was the way it had to be when it took weeks for goings on in a government to propagate to the electorate.

The solons in our governments haven’t yet understood that today it is only a matter seconds before we know what they’re saying and doing and that a few minutes after that, we know what other people (often quite knowledgeable) are parsing and thinking about it. The ‘net is full of chaff, but most people who care about an issue will encounter thoughtful takes on it in minutes; takes that change their thinking about it. It’s really quite wonderful.

Anonymous Coward says:

social networks are the best thing ever, when so-called ‘democracies’ can use them to encourage other nations to adopt democracy. when they are used to spread the word that government plans will adversely affect those in the democracies, they are the worse things ever! you all know the rules, when it suits, it’s fine, when it doesn’t, it’s terrible!

Anonymous Coward says:

Barroso is complete douchebag. The two most memorable moments of his political career in Portugal were when he said that the country was broke (“O pais est? de tanga”, he said, like we didn’t know…) right after being elected and when he bailed out like a year or two later to become president of the European Commission, leaving an even worse douchebag to take his place. The second douchebag was so bad that the government had to be dissolved a short time after.

So excuse me for not being surprised.

Don Dilly (profile) says:

Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

Social Media might help educate the masses and coordinate protest but it can only do that if people agree with the message. In this case people saw politicians acting i their own self interest rather than the interest of their electorate.

What he is really saying is that they would have suceded in slipping this treaty through unnoticed if it wasnt for social media (and wikileaks)

Anonymous Coward says:


I notice one thing here. Could it be simple semantics? I only read the article, not any of the linked texts so my context could be wrong, but it appears that they could be referring to the users of “the social networks” instead of the companies that provide them in much the same way as the people online are simply referred to as “the Internet”?

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

They're not giving up on it yet

The European Parliament may be about to side with the Commission in its strategy to stall the ACTA debate, and postpone by one year or two the vote that could kill it once and for all. It is urgent that citizens contact Members of the Parliament to urge them to continue working towards a clear and strong political position, leading to the unavoidable rejection of ACTA, rather than allow these technocratic man?uvres.

The new rapporteur of ACTA in the EU Parliament, British MEP David Martin, announced that he is working towards a EU Parliament referral of ACTA to the EU Court of Justice. By sending such a referral, the Parliament would tie its own hands and second the recent Commission strategy to stall the ACTA debate. Source:

If they freeze it, they can thaw it out. We need to keep the pressure on.

Squig (profile) says:

Re: They're not giving up on it yet

I disagree with this take on things (even though Jeremy Zimmermann supports it, too): The vote will be postponed whatever happens, since the Commission has to ask the EP to vote. Since the CoJ will get to answer the questions anyways, it makes sense to ask the questions that are posed by the MEPs, not just by the Commission. At least some MEPs will also refer concerns posed by citizens this way.
We need to be careful though: The CoJ is able to answer legal questions, not political ones. If the CoJ waves ACTA through it does not mean that the EP will, or should pass it. The EC is betting their money on this to happen, but this gives us more time to lobby them, raise our political concerns, maybe even work out a good start for a real copyright reform as an alternative.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: They're not giving up on it yet

“The new rapporteur of ACTA in the EU Parliament, British MEP David Martin, announced that he is working towards a EU Parliament referral of ACTA to the EU Court of Justice.”

The problem is that they send the questions aswell, they don’t let the ECJ take a stance on the whole thing.
So you can bet the questions will be harmless bordering on stupid and wont answer any of the questions the people opposing ACTA have.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s ironic that democratic governments and ruling bodies are so afraid of a rather fundamental aspect of their democracy: the people.

I wonder who they think are fighting against them; they make it sound as some sort of mallicious and organized attack by a shadow group not unlike the so-called illuminati. It’s preposterous. Why can’t they realize it’s just the people. People are fed up with more strict IP laws. They already witness a suffocating system of such laws every day and want it to stop. If any group is attacking them, it’s simply the people they are supposed to represent.

silverscarcat says:

Re: People are scary

After all, if they let people have a voice, why, the next thing you know, they might be demanding equal rights for all and certain laws be revoked and people who are clearly innocent of any real misdeeds go free instead of facing crimes for embarrassing certain countries or breaking copyright laws in one country when they’re legal in another, oh, and don’t forget that they might, horror of horrors, demand that the government stop covering up so many secrets.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

not that ironic when you realise that ‘representative democracy’… isn’t.

it’s purpose is not to represent the people, but to placate them.

it’s basically the plutocrat’s way of doing the same thing aristocrats used to do with swords and poison *shrugs*

just has the added bonus of also reducing the odds of revolt, and, when such does happen, the odds of those who lose power also losing their heads.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

… i personally think it’s biggest problem is that it’s European.

… not as in ‘as opposed to asian/american/etc’, but as opposed to ‘reasonable numbers of people in charge of reasonably sized things within reasonable reach of those they are supposedly working for’

it’s the same problem that’s been biting the US in the arse for ages, it’s the reason Russia only ever worked properly as a feudal/absolute monarchy, it’s the reason china repeatedly found itself having to clear out the bureaucrats from the top of the system.

the whole thing is just too damn big for the people to be meaningful to the supposed ‘elites’ at the top of the system.

the EU was just set up badly from the start, relatively speaking, in an era of rapid communication, so the problems are showing up earlier.

it’s not a matter of how big the government itself is, it’s how big the gap between the people running things and the man on the ground is.

(economically speaking, the highest viable level of authority for this is the city-region. essentially a city-state and it’s hinterland. the moment you start trying to take more than that at one go you start getting false feedback in the system due to the responses being based on the average of all such units rather than the actual situation with that specific unit.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Passing the buck...

In light of the fallout from the SOPA/PIPA backlash, it appears to me the referral by the EU of ACTA to the courts for determination appears to be simply an attempt to avoid taking the heat. If the courts say ACTA is ok and the people revolt, they then can say “It wasn’t us. Blame them.” If the courts shoot it down, then they can say, “See we had them check it out for you. Now don’t you trust us?”

Squig (profile) says:

Re: Re: Passing the buck...

Also, keep in mind that the Courts are there to answer judicial (legal) questions, not legislative (political) ones. The Greens in the EP are well aware of the possibility that the EPP and the Commission will want to wave ACTA through after the CoJ says that ACTA is within European law. This is likely to happen, most opponents do not argue the legality of ACTA.

ACTA is not something that will immediately change current law. It will change interpretation of current law, will make it harder to pass new laws going into a softer direction (copyright reform) and make it easier to pass new laws ‘strengthening’ the current interpretation of copyright law (Three strikes and the likes).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Passing the buck...

If they were really concerned about checking legal compatibility with existing law they would have sent it to the courts for review initially. This appears to me to be a means of trying to alter the discussion such that it becomes about legality instead of being about the what the people want whereas it SHOULD have to pass BOTH tests. If it fails EITHER, is should be a dead issue. It clearly fails the popularity test so a legality test should be moot. But instead this appears to be a classic case of “look at the monkey.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Passing the buck...

However I don’t believe this is a case where that logic applies. Steadily the following formula is becoming more and more true.

The Silent == The Ignorant + The Apathetic

This is whether they are a majority or not. From the sum total those who are left, I think it would be very difficult to classify the opposition to the attempts by the gatekeepers to push this sort of legislation as a “vocal minority” which is exactly what the gatekeepers are trying to do (and failing miserably at) when they claim that the opposition to their attempts is just Google and other tech companies. The public isn’t buying those claims because they ARE the opposition.

Squig (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Passing the buck...

You should read up on Stuttgart 21, which has been classified as very similair to the ACTA debate here in Germany. Or look at actual polling numbers on copyright in Germany.

Now, both sides use misinformation to some degree (usually big business uses it more), but democracy in itself is a double-edged sword, more so when you talk about direct democracy.

So, to sum up, I do see what you noted, but would be very careful to apply it to cases, and certainly not paint it with a thick brush

Anonymous Coward says:

“Worried About Its Imminent Directive On Copyright Enforcement”

Government needs to stop worrying so much about anti-competitive laws and what corporations want and they need to spend more time worrying about what the people want.

The issue here should not be “I’m worried that the people who don’t like IP will abolish these laws” it should be “I’m worried that we currently have and are attempting to pass laws that the people don’t want and perhaps we should adjust our legal system to be more representative of what the people want”. If the people don’t want (more) IP laws, if they want many of our current IP laws repealed, governments shouldn’t worry about having these laws repealed, they should be worried about the fact that the current laws are not representative of the public interest and will and they should seek to correct this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I love to drive. I love to drive fast. I have a car that is very much capable of cruising all day in the mid 120-130mph range, without issue. I dislike speed limits.

Are you suggesting that I get 1 or 2% of the population to yell really, really loudly, to threaten business owners and politicians with career ruining actions, that the US will suddenly repeal all speed limits? WOW!

Sometimes what the people want isn’t what the people need.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It doesn’t matter – corporate profits, the right for an artist to get rich off their work, the rights for an author to make money on their books… it’s the same in general as my right to use my car to it’s fullest.

After all, don’t you think that perhaps, just maybe, getting rid of all copyright and all protections would hurt some people, at least a bit? Are you saying that actual job losses and suffering is worse than only the potential risk of an accident? Or are you saying that the potential for pain is enough, so therefore you support copyright because getting rid of it would put many people out of work?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“After all, don’t you think that perhaps, just maybe, getting rid of all copyright and all protections would hurt some people, at least a bit? “

Yeah, it’ll hurt lawyers.

and the government not giving me a million dollars at request hurts me. I’m hurt, more than just a bit. I want my million dollars.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“so therefore you support copyright because getting rid of it would put many people out of work?”

and this is another reason I want IP abolished. It’s purpose is not to ‘create jobs’ it’s purpose should be to promote the progress and serve a social benefit. It’s not the governments job to ‘create jobs’ and dictate where jobs should go, this isn’t communism. We already have a welfare system, IP should not be a form of government welfare or artificial job creation.

Jobs aren’t an end in and of themselves. The government can pay people to dig holes and fill them back up and that’s a job.

That IP has been twisted into a tool to facilitate jobs that corporations feel entitled to is more reason to abolish it.

As a consumer, a person whom jobs should intend to serve, I want IP either abolished or fixed and I don’t care who, or what lawyers, it puts out of work. People will and have created content and will continue to innovate perfectly fine without IP. Sure, the lawyers would get hurt, but they need to find legitimate jobs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Are you suggesting that I get 1 or 2% of the population to yell really, really loudly, to threaten business owners and politicians with career ruining actions, that the US will suddenly repeal all speed limits? WOW!”

Wow, that you can imagine such a suggestion from what I said really demonstrates how desperate you are to grasp at straws.

Violated (profile) says:


It is not too hard to see what is going on there in their desire to engage with social networks.

We can of course muster up hundreds of thousands or even millions of protesters who also go under the name of “voters” and what many politicians would be wanting to please. In that same regard we also have a list of those who we need to remove from power.

What is clear to us is that the Internet as we know it is under attack and very few of us would want to turn the current wild west gun fight into much worse by arming them with weapons of mass destruction. Not only that they are clearly aiming to target citizens with monitoring and filtering.

I can’t see how Glyn Moody can say political engagement would be a bad thing when this is exactly what we want and need. Certainly we should never forget our cause to protect the Internet and not to let them ass around with protecting old monopolies at the expense of the open market. We do need our voice heard and to only kill bad new laws is not the only way when large parts of copyright law needs to be reformed as well.

I do think we are going through an amazing time. Every major historical event involves much hard conflict and we clearly go through many battle as the world changes around us. We now have to protect the freedoms of the Internet to pass to future generations when those freedoms are now at risk of being lost.

Anonymous Coward says:

Thomas Jefferson (and the others) stated the situation very clearly and succinctly in the Declaration of Independence:

and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed

Unfortunately, the mindset of the entertainment industry and their most devout followers make them incapable of understanding they have crossed that line. Their actions and depredations are no longer sufferable, not longer tolerable, no longer acceptable to far, far too many people.

While it is likely that some of that resistance may relent for a bit and go back to quietly simmering, it is NOT going to go away. And rest assured, those who have already been pushed as far as they are willing to be pushed will be ready and waiting to stoke those fires.

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

A Dutch politician blamed “open source society” (his term) for the failing of ACTA, yesterday during a program on counterfeiting goods, and the importing of illegal drugs.

Without mentioning the other side of the argument that the law was badly written, poorly constructed, and intentionally broad and vague.

He was there to put the blame on ‘open source society’ that we get fake drugs on the Dutch market, that you can buy off shady websites.

The program ironically showcased people doing work at the border and post-agencies on preventing that kind of import from happening, while claiming that nothing could be done against the importing of illegal/contraband/fake goods and drugs.

It was a shoddy piece of work, and basically was used to instill fear, uncertainty and doubt, and to promote the goodness that was ACTA.

I was ashamed that my tax euros were used to fund that program (it was on public tv, that’s funded through our taxes)

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