Dozens of Europeans Took to the Streets Protesting Copyright Reform

This Sunday was “action day”, when a Million Europeans were supposed to stand up against the “censorship and control” of the proposed copyright reform. Except almost nobody turned up.

Clicktivism Turns Slacktivist

I went to check out the rally in Stockholm. But at the announced location, I couldn’t find it. A look at the Facebook event comments guided me to a nearby park where something that looked more like a picknick than a political protest took place next to Stockholmers walking dogs and reading newspapers on benches and in general doing things people do in parks undisturbed by the protest rally. I listened briefly as former Pirate MEP Christian Engström gave a speech suggesting it was time for a new “ACTA moment” (the trade agreement which was discarded by EU Parliament in 2012 following a similar internet protest as the copyright reform this year). Such an uprising felt very distant at that moment in Berzelii Park in Stockholm. I counted 18 participants. In the very birth-place of the Pirate movement, the country that gave the Pirate Party 7,3% support in the 2009 EP election.

Across Europe estimates point to around 450 attendees at the protests, an average 30 per rally. As one writer calls it: Astroturf instead of grass roots, when clicktivism meets hard reality.

Media Questions Authenticity of Emails

Many have pointed out that the mass spamming of MEPs in the copyright vote earlier this summer was orchestrated by Silicon Valley rather than upset citizens.

The Times revealed how Google funded a website that was used to bombard MEPs with emails and calls backing its policies.

Music Tech Policy looked at how Google’s contributions to academics in Germany generated favourable scientific papers.

Billboard pointed to the difference in turn-out for protests offline compared to online.

Thanks to research made by German cybersecurity firm File Defense, Netopia has been able to publish this chart of how the campaign was orchestrated.

Even the coordinator of the campaign conceded that it was “partly” funded by Big Tech.

Will MEPs call the bluff on September 12?

The big surprise here is not that Big Tech launched an astroturfing campaign. The big surprise is also not that the pirates seemed to actually believe the crowds would turn out in masses. No, the big surprise is that so many MEPs voted against the proposal. The friendly conclusion is that they needed to know whether it was an actual protest by real voters, or bots run by Silicon Valley front groups.

Protest rally in Stockholm

This was Netopia’s newsletter on August 30th 2018