The battle against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has just got serious; Richard Stallman has joined the fray. The free software campaigner has got the agreement in his sights - and has had a few potshots at another anti-ACTA initiative along the way.
ACTA has been widely criticised by free software campaigners for its heavy-handed approach to copyright breaches with many seeing the proposed restrictions, with threatened disconnection from the Internet, as being an instrument against communication as well as being disproportionate to the crime - or rather, alleged crime. Among some of the anti-ACTA activists, however, there is recognition of such concepts as copyright and piracy, accepting the need to protect intellectual property, but that the ACTA proposals go too far.
Following the recent ACTA meeting in New Zealand, activists against ACTA produced the Wellington Declaration and it's this in particular that has raised Stallman's ire - even though he's in broad agreement with the declaration.
The free software activist has seized on two points; the Wellington Declaration's support for Article 11 of the WIPO agreement on the Internet - which calls for an acceptance for some sort of what Stallman calls "digital handcuffs" and the Wellington Declaration's recognition that WIPO is a more open and representative forum than ACTA. Stallman says of the latter point, "I don't recall seeing WIPO become a force for good in the world. It is true that WIPO's procedures are not as bad as ACTA's mostly secret negotiations, but that's the best thing one can say about WIPO"
Stallman's Free Software Foundation has started its own declaration as a counterblast to the Wellington one. Billed as a firm, simple declaration against ACTA, it's unequivocal in its support for sharing software and against measures that restrict individuals' use of of the Internet.
It's a fine, clear document - I've signed it but, ultimately, It's all going to be ineffectual. There was a massive amount of anger in the techie community against the Digital Economy Bill as it was going through parliament, but despite all the emails, the blogs, the faxes and phone calls, the measure got passed. The bill became law because the lobbying forces ranged against it were too great - as it will be with ACTA,
But just how much does the world need Richard Stallman? Whether he's right or wrong, his single-minded purity and consistency of belief is a strong moral compass. He's the John Lilburne of our age - not because of any religious beliefs - but in his refusal to trim or bend his views. In an age of dubious alliances and shoddy compromises, Stallman's unbending vision of a free software future is not to to everyone's taste but his clarity of thought and single-minded dedication is something to admire.
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