Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The IPR Bubble And How To Burst It

The state-sponsored monopoly privileges accorded to the IPR industries have put them in a bubble in which they are sheltered from the harsh realities of a free and open market. I wouldn't mind too much if they just stayed in they bubble and left me alone, but since they're planning to lock down the internet to protect their failing business models, I think it's time to burst it. Here's how.

The problem

As I've pointed out innumerable times, they've been allowed to become entrenched in a position in which their investment interest is characterised as property and treated as such. Their narcissistic detachment from reality has brought about such a growth and dependence on intangibles that whole industries have grown up around them. Their business models now consist of creating more patents, etc., so they can stop other people from innovating. It's not like they're obliged to issue them a license or charge them a reasonable rate, is it?

Try telling this to the US Chamber of Commerce and this is their response:

Thus, IP conflicts arise as the byproducts of a very healthy overall innovation environment. The tech industry is characterized by extremely sharp drops in costs over time, extremely strong increases in performance, and multiple changes in market leads, with different companies leading at different points in time. That tremendously competitive marketplace is a sign of the critical role IP rights play in driving technology companies to invest, compete, create jobs, and drive exports. Via Techdirt

Techdirt's Mike Masnick is cherry-picking comments from an email they sent him and boy, it is funny! "IP (intellectual property) conflicts arise as the byproducts of a very healthy overall innovation environment" made me laugh out loud because Oracle V Google is the first example I could think of as an IP conflict and that could have ended open source if Judge Alsup hadn't been a programmer with a head for numbers as well as a fine legal mind. His honour sensibly threw out the API copyright claim (thank goodness!), then ordered Oracle to pay Google's legal fees. Now chew on the fact that Oracle, who had not really done much in the smartphone market were trolling Google, whose Android phone is doing well. The fact that they went after copyright royalties for the API (a sort of adapter for code) really says it all. The damage to the computing ecosystem would have been catastrophic if it had gone through.

Bursting the bubble

The best way to burst the bubble is to get some solid facts and back them up with evidence, then double-tap by making it public and getting more people involved.

Whack 'em with the facts

I emailed Chris Gray of Canada's Chamber of Commerce to take him to task over his efforts to lock down the internet to protect the investment interests of those companies who hold monopoly privileges over content (films, music, etc.), pharmaceuticals, and technology. In the email I provided examples of what the IP enforcement efforts available now are doing:

Remember the Kenny Rogers lawsuit against Capitol Records (EMI)? And you're trying to tell us that copyright is about the artists? What about work for hire? As for enforcement, ISP addresses are the worst way of finding infringers. I live in Salford but Google has currently placed me in Uttoxeter, wherever that is. As for civil proceedings, one of the more horrible practices is called speculative invoicing. This is usually done by using ISP addresses to identify a group of unidentified people and going after them with demands for money on pain of court proceedings. This dragnet approach has so far caught old grannies, children, and some dead people.

I went into great detail, addressing the three main pillars of IP that affect me, namely patents, copyright, and trademarks, then offered him solutions for tackling infringement without locking down the internet. His response:

Thanks for your email. The main goal of this report is shed light on the problems of counterfeiting in Canada and present possible solutions to deal with it. We’ve talked to the RCMP at length who note the problem is increasing and more needs to be done to stop it. If you have the chance, you should take a look at the National Geographic’s documentary “Illicit: The Dark Trade”. It’s a real eye-opener documenting the enormity of the problem worldwide. I also thank you for the other information you provided in your email.

Well that was nice of him but he's avoided the fact that I know he's been talking to USTR and taking cues from them. I responded by reiterating the fact that the solutions he's suggesting would do more harm than good and added,

As I said earlier, I appreciate that you've got problems but I'd rather not live in 1984 so you can put an ineffective plan into action.

Make it public and get others involved

I also told him that I know about CETA and that I'm one of those people fighting ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. And that I know he wants to get in on TPP (I told him he's not missing much and gave him the negotiators' contact details), which even the negotiators from the other countries are having trouble with accepting. I haven't had a response to that and I doubt that I will.

Did it work? I'm not sure but I know that whacking him with the facts would have upset any idea he had that he could get me to see things his way. I've also demonstrated my determination to fight any further legislation and the possibility that I and my associates will win. Now I've blogged about it and I'll send him a link to this, then let him know that until the Canadian Chamber of Commerce makes a definitive statement recommending solutions that include seeking new business models, relaxing or repealing existing IP laws, and protecting the internet and people's privacy I'll be on his back like a monkey with a grudge. I'll also go after his trading partners, sending polite but insistent emails to let them know how utterly self-defeating the notion of intellectual property is and that there are better solutions for making money than building a bubble around a brand in order to pretend it's a diamond or something.

I'll also be sure to warn the partners about the perils of getting into self-defeating trade agreements that aren't free at all. The kicker in all this was giving him the link to the Internet Freedom Movement page on Google Plus, where I'm an admin. We've got almost 12,000 followers now.

The knowledge that we're actively and continually working towards internet freedom and fighting unfair laws and treaties will hopefully add to the pressure of all those other people emailing him and the tech blogs writing about him until he finally caves in. What I'd absolutely love is for Mr. Gray to put out a consultation paper or get together with some digital rights and public interest groups to frame laws and treaties that work for everyone instead of sneaking around behind our backs trying to make 1984 a reality instead of the cautionary fiction that it is. But that will only happen when the bubble bursts.

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