Sunday, 8 July 2012

Dotcom, The Demise Of ACTA, And Their Affect On IPR In Trade Agreements

On the 20th June, Apple co-founder and EFF supporter Steve Wozniak met Kim Dotcom at his mansion when he discovered that Dotcom, who is under house arrest pending his extradition hearing, couldn't meet him. Although Woz says he doesn't approve of copyright infringement, he seems to have found a lot in common with the German-born MegaUpload founder.

Irregularities in the warrant paperwork might see the charges against MegaUpload dropped, but he still faces decades of imprisonment for copyright infringement on a commercial scale. The upshot is that Uncle Sam can't just waltz into a small nation, co-opt their police, raid a mansion, seize a suspect, and carry him away. There's something called "due process" and in a democratic country, you follow it properly or you end up with egg all over your face.

In the full blaze of publicity, the US has behaved shamefully at the behest of the MPAA and RIAA, who have been instrumental in the massive website seizure failures I have blogged about because they're so used to getting their own way, they're all shocked when they don't. Now it seems that corruption at the highest level is behind the MegaUpload seizure: Dotcom alleges that US Vice President Joe Biden was behind the MegaUpload raid. The MPAA deny this, and say that though a meeting with the Vice President did take place, it was to remove barriers to trade in China. Whatever the truth is, they've made huge fools of themselves and have dug their heels in, Carreon-style.

You'd think that, as a result, the colourful internet entrepreneur would focus on defending his case and extracting his company from Uncle Sam's clutches. Actually, no. He's released a song.

He's also announced a new startup, MegaBox. One of the conspiracy theories flying around was that the raid on the Dotcom mansion was to thwart Megabox, but it looks like it's going ahead.

The demise of ACTA

New Zealand, where Dotcom lives, is one of the signatories to ACTA, the treaty pulled down by internet campaigns and street protests all over the world. If ACTA had got through, events like the Dotcom arrest would have been more common.

After years of steady upward ratcheting, laws were being changed globally to accommodate the ever-tightening grip of Hollywood on its market. The plan was twofold: expand its market by finding new places to sell its movies, and lock down the aforementioned market with stiff penalties for sharing online and making bootleg copies. ACTA's job was the latter, though the three-strikes plan to kick people off the internet for file-sharing was shifted to our domestic laws before the final draft made it to public view — thanks to Wikileaks.

Now that it's dead, the concern in the USTR camp is that their plan to export draconian IPR measures to their TPP partners has to change because ACTA was the fallback if the countries taking part would not accept the provisions as they were. Scrabbling for solutions, the USTR got creative and announced that they'd permit limitations and exceptions to copyright, but they're the bare basics of what we've got now. It's like inviting you to a party, giving you a crumb of cake and wondering why you think they're so stingy. But this is an age where you can be called an infringer and sent to prison for linking, so it needs to be there.

It's also triggered an initiative by our governments to ask for the public's opinion on IPR. There have been public consultations by the European Commission and the White House. I personally hope this will lead to better legislation and a breakup of Hollywood's distribution monopoly. They've got to stop resisting change and stifling innovation. Until IPR reform is achieved, there won't be an end to the economic downturn any time soon.

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