Protesters took to the freezing cold streets of several European cities Saturday to voice anger at an international copyright treaty they fear will lead to a blocking of content on the Internet.
Poland, France, and Italy are among European nations that recently signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, but ratification remains in question in many countries as contempt builds against it, mostly from young people.
ACTA has been under negotiation for years and it still in the process of being signed. The United States, Japan, South Korea and others say it is needed to harmonize international standards to protect the rights of those who produce music, movies, pharmaceuticals, fashion, and a range of other products that often fall victim to piracy and intellectual property theft.
Strong opposition to the treaty suddenly emerged in Poland last month and is now spreading across Europe, where protests are taking place in many cities. Critics say they fear it will lead to online censorship and overly harsh punishments for those who use copyrighted material.
Some of the first to gather Saturday were in the bitter cold of the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. In Germany, a few thousand people protested in downtown Berlin, some with sticking tape over their mouths or wearing Guy Fawkes masks. They carried placards such as "Stop ACTA," ''Right to Remix" and "ACTA: the rule of law was yesterday."
A protest organizer, Tillmann Mueller-Kuckelberg, said the movement against the agreement was "a broad civil rights alliance that has come together out of spontaneous outrage at this project."
"We have the protests in Poland to thank above all for what is happening in Europe and worldwide at the moment," he said.
"A lot of people in other European countries woke up then, and we hope worldwide that the protests will lead to the ACTA agreement being stopped."
Germany's Foreign Ministry said Friday that the country had held off on signing ACTA after the Justice Ministry voiced concerns. An official signature is needed before the deal can go to Parliament for approval.
In Vilnius, hundreds rallied in front of a government building, some carrying signs that said "Stop ACTA."
Marches also took place in the Polish cities of Warsaw, Szczecin, Poznan and Gdansk.
"Down with the censorship of Big Brother," said one of the banners in Warsaw, where about 150 people gathered in front of the presidential palace.
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