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Protectionism Only Serves to Stifle Innovation

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First there was the Digital Economy Act, then there was SOPA and its counterpart PIPA, and now there's the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA. Or rather, little did we know that before the Digital Economy Act was a twinkle in Peter Mandelson's eye, negotiations for ACTA were already underway. The discussions began in 2007: Lord Mandelson, the then EU Trade Commissioner (who writes for the New Statesman today arguing against protectionist measures) was seeking a mandate from European Members States to negotiate an agreement "to protect European intellectual property around the world".

The first formal draft of the trade agreement was released in 2010, meaning that while large groups such as the Intellectual Property Owners Association, the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc., and the Recording Industry Association of America were allowed access to the treaty negotiations, members of the public, entrepreneurs and startups who will be subject to the enforcement of the treaty had no option to contribute. This led to the rapporteur for ACTA, Kader Arif, resigning in protest over the restrictions to online freedom and the lack of transparency in the process that led to ACTA's signing.

This past weekend, protests took place across the globe where thousands of people demonstrated against ACTA and the stifling of freedom of expression on the internet. Not only does ACTA present a threats to the fundamental rights of free speech and privacy on the internet, but it also has the potential to stifle tech startups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) working on building great new businesses.

ACTA will require any business that either provides access to the internet (such as ISPs) or online services that host content (such as social media sites) to begin to police their users and to monitor and filter content for copyright infringement on a proactive basis. While the Googles and Facebooks of this world may have the resources and legal teams to handle this, entrepreneurs and SMEs will suffer under such a massive burden.

But these measures will do nothing to boost the music and film industry. We have seen in the closing of MegaUpload that while legal methods of content distribution are being held back, new options will always pop up. Brilliant new models of producing, marketing and distributing creative content are emerging, and they thrive on the vibrancy of the internet rather than being threatened by it. Digital businesses across the UK and all of Europe are the job creators and wealth creators of the future.

Now the European Parliament has the opportunity to act on behalf of their citizens and ensure their rights are protected. Poland, Germany, Bulgaira and the Netherlands have all refused to ratify ACTA due to concerns over its impact upon human rights. We now look to our MEPs and hope they will recognise the threat ACTA presents to growth here and throughout Europe.

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