Thursday, 4 October 2012

Is Greed Good? IPR: Five Reasons Gordon Gekko Was Wrong

I've been rabbiting on at Google Plus about how horrible IPR (intellectual property rights) laws are and how far they go against the public interest. They even hurt the owners and proponents, but as long as notions of property rights are attached to cultural items such as films, music, and books, we're all going to suffer. Here are five talking points for those people who believe that expanding IPR is a good idea.


The five issues I see coming up over and over again because of the ridiculous ways we've let the IPR lobby hog-tie our legal system are to do with

  • international trade agreements

  • IPR harmonisation

  • enforcement

  • patents

  • expansionism

International trade agreements


On the Fourth of July this year we the people put ACTA out of our misery as the culmination of a successful campaign to shut it down, the first time such a thing had been achieved. Perhaps this was the rationale behind keeping the notorious Trans Pacific Partnership as secret as possible while pretending that it was transparent. Well it is, if you're a lobbyist. Secrecy and protectionism are harming international relations, particularly in trade. It's the IPR chapter that's causing the most trouble, followed by the procurement and corporate rights ones. Only now are they beginning to loosen up a bit but you still need to join a trade association to get a look in.

If they'd stop being so greedy and selfish they could arrive at an agreement that benefits everyone, but when big business calls the shots, the USTR wags its tail and pants, then barks and growls at the likes of you and I. They seem to have forgotten that corporations are people only for the sake of financing political ads, etc. Corporations, as an entity, can't actually vote.

IPR harmonisation


The European Union is increasingly acting as a buffer against the excesses of our national government, whose neoliberalism causes more trouble than it solves. It helps that there's a Pirate in the International Trade Committee (INTA). We need one in JURI, the International Law Committee. Anyway, they're working on a measure to make a law that allows for creation without copyright to become EU policy. As it is, EU countries are signatories to the Berne Convention, which requires copyright to be automatic as soon as a work is "fixed," which means that creation without copyright is not permitted. But this is an official request to European Parliament's Foreign Affairs committee. Could they get the Berne Convention overturned? Marielle Gallo, the maximalist rapporteur of the JURI Committee won't like that, but hopefully she's lost credibility over the rigged voting scandal from February this year, not to mention the fact that she called activists "mild terrorists." I prefer to think of us as the homeopathic version. It only works if you actually believe in it because there's not a molecule of terrorism in what we do. Meanwhile, Neelie Kroes's call for copyright reform adds weight to this so watch this space.

Of course, if it wasn't for the greed of the IPR lobby and their endless assaults on our personal freedoms in the first place, this wouldn't be an issue. One of the main problems here is the sense of entitlement they have to receive money for providing copies to us when we can easily make our own. Though they bleat about the artists, they themselves are the middlemen. They pushed too far and now, as a result, we're pushing back. The new standard for harmonization will be full access, digital freedom, and net neutrality. We'll be pushing till we get it.

Enforcement


The Dotcom saga gets more and more ridiculous. When you treat a man like a terrorist because he disrupts your business model, you'll be called on how ridiculous you're being. The degree of ridiculousness may or may not affect the way your government is perceived. Imagine spying on a man and his associates, drunk with power and the false notion of superiority and having arrived in the world because agents from Hollywood have invited themselves to dinner. The over-wrought, over the top display of arrogance and the FUD and lies that went with it have exposed John Key's National Party to international scrutiny and he's been found wanting. The FBI didn't come out of it too well, either. Now it seems that his toadying will continue as he travels to Hollywood, ostensibly to suck up to film-makers who might want a beautiful location to film in.

Of course, the biggest losers were the RIAA and MPAA. The resultant backlash is making it hard to take them seriously because we're only able to see the incompetence, arrogance, and presumtion they display as they attempt to uphold a business model that relies on exclusive distribution. The greed for power is preventing the likes of HBO from realising the profits to be made from the 90 million fans of shows like Game of Thrones who don't have cable TV and don't want it. As a rule, if you don't make money from linking to content or share it, they'll leave you alone but when people lower down the food chain are targeted, it's frightening. When the law itself is subordinated to profit margins, it's time to ask what's more important. The answer will always be, "It depends on who benefits." It ain't us.

Patents


GoDaddy, it seems, has received a patent on 'Announcing A Domain Name Registration On A Social Website.' Seriously. Needless to say, people are already discovering prior art but it's ridiculous that it even got through. Broadly-written patents hold back innovation and are used for trolling. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, we're hoping to see the island nation asserting its sovereignty by standing up to the US in the current TPP negotiations, and refusing to submit over things like software patents. It now looks increasingly likely that they will be introduced into New Zealand, and the suspicion has to be that this is partly as a result of continuing US pressure. Saying "no" to software patents would allow the New Zealand government to point to an area where it has defended the country's interests despite demands from elsewhere, according to Glyn Moody on Techdirt. He's right. Software patents are not being used to protect innovation. They're being used to troll and if you haven't got a big war chest, you're finished. Of course, we live in a world where patents and other IPR IS the innovation.

The damage is incalculable. We're in a double-dip recession and can't be dealing with this nonsense. I could write ten blog posts about the harm that greed over patents causes and still have plenty of material for more. The patent system is broken and we don't need patents on software.

Expansionism


The sheer nuttiness that results from expansionism is unbelieveable. When rights on music is so important that it can't be used to represent humanity it's time to rethink IPR. Techdirt laughs at the idea of EMI being afraid that ET might listen to Here Comes The Sun by The Beatles and possibly copy and share the song with Mr. Spock and the other aliens, but this is serious. Our access to culture is being hampered by petty selfish money-men who think of music as intellectual property. If each piece of music was completely unique, they might have a point but music is derivative. Now copyright law accounts for this but not everyone gets credit for their influences so the only way to benefit is to be wealthy enough to fight for your rights in court.

The result of this expansionism here on Earth is the ever-increasing copyright terms. It's got to stop. They're even looking at ancillary copyright to charge search engines for linking if there are ads with the search results. I've got ads on this blog and a search box. This could happen to me. The result of this greed is that we end up trying to free ourselves of these burdens so we don't post that link, and as a result that item is harder to find. Not my problem. Charge me to link and you're on your own. Toodle-oo.

Conclusion


The smartest approach to copyright is to check greed at the door and address the market as it is instead of trying to "educate" or control the public. Thankfully, it's getting easier to explain this to people.

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