Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Us And Them: Why IP Holders Fear Democracy

internet demonsI've gone political ever since the SOPA outcry began, and have been in a state of constant vigilance ever since. Once the fear, uncertainty, and doubt cat got out of the bag, I was in this for the long haul. Take away the threat to my privacy and freedom and I'll go back to laughing at LOLcats. Let me fill you in on why the IP holders won't stop trying to take over the internet.

I've tried seeing things from their point of view but my aversion to being lied to pretty much destroys any chance of being able to sympathise. Nonetheless, I have figured out what their chief beefs are:

1. Control

These are people accustomed to getting their own way. They might pay lip service to the idea of a consultation with the public and digital rights groups but the truth is they think we're kids and can't take us seriously because we're evidently not mature enough to accept their way of seeing things. As such, they seek to educate us to first explain, then enforce, their will. The idea that reasonable, law-abiding people oppose them and their methods actually surprises them because they're so right they can't possibly be wrong. The only solution, therefore, is to control the unruly public like circus lion tamers cracking their whips to keep us in line. Their "my way or the highway" attitude must prevail or surely the sky will fall. This is what ACTA, PIPA, SOPA, and now CISPA are about. What Constitution?And if that's not bad enough, they're trying to export their draconian laws over here.

2. Money

This appears to be secondary to their overall aims. If it really was about money they would deal with the pirates and come up with a revenue-sharing deal with the them that would benefit everyone. They can and do use money as an argument. In a report by the Economics and Statistics Administration, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and the U.S. Department of Commerce, in which they insist that IP-intensive industries support 40 million jobs, and make it clear that they believe that any threat to IP is a threat to those jobs. This fear, uncertainty, and doubt is their most oft-used tool and it has been very effective as part of the carrot-and-stick approach they have been taking towards dealing with policymakers. Here's a juicy quote:

The dynamics of a globally connected market mean that the United States will need to develop the brightest minds with the most advanced training to make the best products. The Obama Administration’s determination to promote innovation and protect intellectual property (IP) rights will harness the inherent drive and ingenuity of the American people in meeting that goal.

By tying the fear of harming the economy, a familiar refrain from an earlier version of CISPA, to the idea that resistance comes only from subversives, the IP holders can convince their pet politicians to pass bills like this. Add a nice little donation to the old campaign fund and it's harder to say no. That's why the public has to fight so hard. The trouble is, the IP holders become resistant to our resistance and we end up with a mess. It doesn't have to be this way.

3. Ignorance

The lack of understanding of the public mood and the refusal to seriously entertain the idea of engaging with us in a serious manner is an important factor in all of this. I'm not naive enough to think that if they just understood where we were coming from they'd back off and leave us alone but I do think it's worth reminding them that alienating their customers, which most of us are, is the wrong way to approach this because they seem to have forgotten.

How they see us How we see them
Internet Pirate copyright/patent troll

They also seem to be confused by the internet and technology in general, which is a bit rich coming from people who claim to be in favour of innovation. The innovations they propose only serve to limit the way we can experience their products and penalize us for exercizing ownership of anything we buy from them.

The solution

Slowly but surely they are coming to the realisation that as long as there's democracy there will be dissent because dissent is intrinsic to a heathly democracy. Attempting to stifle dissent is counter-productive. What we actually need is to persuade them to pay attention to us, be willing to modernise, and accept IP reform as a way forward. In other words, let go of the control. They're doing it wrong.

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