Hard times for selling masks

January 2019: The group Anonymous has now joined the ranks of opposition to the new EU Copyright Directive. Their emblem is the Guy Fawkes mask known from the graphic novel and film  “V for Vendetta”.
The mask plays on the story of the failed attempt of the English officer Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators to blow up the House of Lords in 1605.

Screenshot from the StopACTA2.org website

The group declared that 19 January 2019 would be a new day of protest with demonstrations across Europe. Eight were announced for Poland and 15 more for additional EU states, including two in Germany and one in Oslo, Norway – a non-EU country.

Screenshot from the StopACTA2.org website

The 30 similar demonstrations held back in August 2018 attracted a scant 800 participants in spite of the wide spectrum of organizations that had appealed to their supporters to come out and protest. In Germany, for example, the organizations supporting the protests ranged from the center-right Free Democratic Party through to the Green Party and the Pirate Party.

It seems highly likely that the anonymous instigators of this fresh round of protests are from Poland. The demonstrations held there in summer 2018 already used the slogan StopActa2; and this year, again, the largest number of demonstrations has been registered by copyright law critics in Poland. This echoes a pattern that became established seven years ago, when EU-wide protests against the multilateral trade agreement ACTA began in Poland. Why not, the protesters must have thought, simply back the same horse again?

The old horse is lame now, ACTA, mass surveillance and slavery
The spectrum of protest gathered under the StopACTA2 umbrella is broad and more than a little chaotic. The protesters wish to signal their opposition to mass surveillance, corruption, globalization, and even slavery!
Astonishingly enough, however, they have opted to do so by undermining a directive that will fail to curb the activities of the two leading enterprises engaged in mass surveillance, Facebook and Google, if it is allowed to fail. No more than passing mention need be made here of the fact that slavery was abolished in Europe as far back as the nineteenth century.

StopACTA2 Europe on Twitter

The slogan “StopACTA2” already proved to be something of a damp squib last summer. Only a handful of protesters took part in the demonstrations in Poland, certainly in comparison to the numbers involved in the 2012 anti-ACTA protests. The protesters were barely more conspicuous than mere passerby. In several cities, they were outnumbered by the police officers charged with monitoring the demonstrations. The anxious, eager-beaver collective anti-ACTA spirit from 2012 was nowhere to be found – times change, and opinions change with them …

Perhaps potential sympathizers were unable to make the mental leap the organizers demanded of them from protesting against a trade agreement (ACTA) to protesting against an EU directive that has nothing whatsoever to do with ACTA.

A whirlwind on the Internet, a tiny puff of air in real life
The number of participants predicted to take part in this fresh round of protests in January 2019 contrasts sharply, again, with the image projected online of a supposedly powerful grassroots movement.
The organizers of the Frankfurt protest were presumably well aware of this in November 2018 when they told the authorities to expect around 50 protesters at the demonstration they were registering. Hardly evidence of optimism.   Why the organizer “Savetheinternet.info” made no mention at all of the demonstration it registered in Frankfurt on its own website remains something of a mystery.
In Berlin the group of 15 people did barely register in the busy Berlin square “Alexanderplatz” anyway. The little bunch moved on to “Potsdamer Platz” without attracting attention there.

The participants
Αθήνα/Atena 10
Berlin 15
Bielsko-Biała 22
Brussel/Bruxelles 0
București 25
Budapest 0
Frankfurt 30
Gdansk 20
Göteborg 23
Helsinki 15
Katowice 20
København 10
Kraków 30
Lisboa 22
Łódź 0
London 0
Milano 1
Oslo 6
Paris 0
Piekary Śląskie 10
Poznań 105
Warszawa 40
Wrocław 10
Source: Own counting, Organisators on Facebook, Youtube and polish radio and TV

Millions of clicks – but practically nobody out on the streets

For the organizers, these figures are disastrous and cringeworthy. This time, the number of parties and organizations that have publicly backed the protests is much smaller than it was last summer; only the Polish Pirate Party has been mentioned as a prominent supporter. Who, after all, would want to be associated with an event attended by a tiny handful of participants and projecting the confused messaging of a group like Anonymous where not even the members are known?

The pathetic figures from last summer’s street protests did not tally with the image of a supposedly huge grassroots movement that the organizers were keen to project. The demonstrations in August were clearly not the unmistakeable and unignorable sign that had been promised.
But this latest round of protests has clearly missed the mark by a much greater margin again.

Not even the assistance provided by YouTube seems to have borne fruit. Countless YouTubers followed the appeal issued by YouTube boss Susan Wojcicki in November and lamented the platform’s imminent end in countless (and largely ridiculous) videos. In these bizarre videos that even included a suicide announcement, commentators indicated that the video portal would have to shut down as early as 2019.

YouTube played along with these predictions and boosted the videos by listing them as trending, but to little avail. Outraged YouTube users seem to have given videos a thumbs up or thumbs down on their smartphones from the comfort of their own homes and left street protest to …well, to who?

Anyone who thought there was money to be made from selling Guy Fawkes masks to willing participants in the Europe-wide day of protest will most likely have been rather disappointed. Quite apart from the fact that the copyright for the masks is held by Warner Bros, an enterprise counted by many critics of copyright legislation as part of an alleged “content mafia”.

Just as in other areas, the anti-movement is supporting precisely those it purports to decry here.

Volker Rieck is managing director of the content protection service provider FDS File Defense Service, which works for numerous rights owners. The company also prepares studies on piracy and supports law enforcement companies with the data it collects.
Volker Rieck blogs regularly on Webschauder and from time to time on the US blog The Trichordist on various aspects of unregulated content distribution. His articles also appear on Tarnkappe.info and in the FAZ.