Thursday, January 02, 2014

TPP — copyright versus free speech

by Annie Machon, Director, LEAP Europe. Formerly MI5

We, the cit­izens of the world, already owe NSA whis­tleblower Edward Snowden a huge debt of grat­it­ude.  Even the lim­ited pub­lic­a­tion of a few of the doc­u­ments he dis­closed to journ­al­ists has to date pro­voked a polit­ical and pub­lic debate in coun­tries across the planet — and who knows what other nas­ties lurk in the cache of doc­u­ments, yet to be exposed?

Thanks to Snowden, mil­lions of people as well as many gov­ern­ments have woken up to the fact that pri­vacy is the vital com­pon­ent of free soci­et­ies.  Without that basic right we are unable to freely read, write, speak, plan and asso­ci­ate without fear of being watched, our every thought and utter­ance stored up to be poten­tially used against us at some neb­u­lous future date.  Such pan­op­tic global sur­veil­lance leads inev­it­ably to self-censorship and is cor­ros­ive to our basic freedoms, and indi­vidual cit­izens as well as coun­tries are explor­ing ways to pro­tect them­selves and their privacy.

As I and oth­ers more emin­ent have said before, we need free media to have a free society.
But even if we can defend these free chan­nels of com­mu­nic­a­tion, what if the very inform­a­tion we wish to ingest and com­mu­nic­ate is no longer deemed to be free?  What if we become crim­in­al­ised purely for shar­ing such un-free information?

The global mil­it­ary secur­ity com­plex may be bru­tal, but it is not stu­pid. These cor­por­at­ist elites, as I prefer to think of them, have seen the new medium of the inter­net as a threat to their profits and power since its incep­tion. Which is why they have been fight­ing a des­per­ate rear­guard action to apply US pat­ent and copy­right laws globally.


They began by going after music shar­ing sites such as Nap­ster and impos­ing grot­esque legal pen­al­ties on those try­ing to down­load a few songs they liked for free, then try­ing to build national fire­walls to deny whole coun­tries access to file shar­ing sites such as The Pir­ate Bay and per­se­cut­ing its co-founder Ana­kata, mer­ci­fully fail­ing to extra­dite Richard O’Dwyer from the UK to the US on trumped up charges for his sign­post­ing site to free media, and cul­min­at­ing in the take down of Megaup­load and the illegal FBI attack against Kim Dotcom’s home in New Zea­l­and last year.

But for all these high-profile cases of attemp­ted deterrence, more and more people are shar­ing inform­a­tion, cul­ture, and research for free on the inter­net. Using peer to peer tech­no­lo­gies like Bit­tor­rent and anonymising tools like Tor they are hard to detect, which is why the cor­por­at­ist lob­by­ists demand the sur­veil­lance state develop ever more intrus­ive ways of detect­ing them, includ­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of deep packet inspec­tion. And of course once such invas­ive tech­no­lo­gies are avail­able, we all know that they will not only be used to stop “pir­acy” but will also be used against the people of the world by the mil­it­ary sur­veil­lance com­plex too.

But that is still not enough for the cor­por­at­ists.  Largely US-based, they are now try­ing to flex their polit­ical muscle glob­ally.  First the US claims that any site end­ing with a tier one US domain name (.com, .org, .net and .info) comes under US law — any­where in the world — and can be taken down without warn­ing or redress by a diktat from the US government.

More egre­giously still, the US cor­por­at­ists have been try­ing to impose their legal domin­ion glob­ally via a series of secret regional trade agree­ments: ACTA, TTIP/TAFTA, SOPA, and now in the recently Wikileaked details of the Trans-Pacific Part­ner­ship (TPP) tar­get­ing the coun­tries around the Pacific rim.

These agree­ments, writ­ten by cor­por­ate lob­by­ists, are so secret that the demo­cratic rep­res­ent­at­ives of sov­er­eign coun­tries are not even allowed to read the con­tents or debate the terms — they are just told to sign on the dot­ted line, effect­ively rubber-stamping legis­la­tion that is anti­thet­ical to the vast major­ity their cit­izens’ interests, which gives greater sov­er­eign powers to the interests of the cor­por­a­tions than it does to nation states, and which will crim­in­al­ise and dir­ectly harm the people of the world in the interests of the few.

One of the pro­pos­als is that mul­tina­tional cor­por­a­tions can sue national gov­ern­ments for future lost profits based on pat­ents not gran­ted or envir­on­mental restric­tions. This is noth­ing short of full-on cor­por­at­ism where inter­na­tional law and global treat­ies serve a hand­ful of large cor­por­a­tions to the det­ri­ment of national sov­er­eignty, envir­on­mental health and even human life.

For by pro­tect­ing “intel­lec­tual prop­erty” (IP), we are not just talk­ing about the cre­at­ive endeav­ours of artists. One does not need to be a law­yer to see the fun­da­mental prob­lem­atic assump­tions in the goals as defined in the leaked doc­u­ment:
Enhance the role of intel­lec­tual prop­erty in pro­mot­ing eco­nomic and social devel­op­ment, par­tic­u­larly in rela­tion to the new digital eco­nomy, tech­no­lo­gical innov­a­tion, the trans­fer and dis­sem­in­a­tion of tech­no­logy and trade;

This state­ment assumes that IP, a made-up term that con­fuses three very dif­fer­ent areas of law, is by defin­i­tion bene­fi­cial to soci­ety as a whole. No evid­ence for these claimed bene­fits is provided any­where. As with “what-is-good-for-General-Motors-is-good-for-America” and the the­ory of ”trickle down” eco­nom­ics, the bene­fits are simply assumed and altern­at­ive mod­els act­ively and wil­fully ignored. The idea that most soci­et­ies on the planet might vastly bene­fit from a relax­a­tion of pat­ent laws or the length of copy­right is not even up for debate. This des­pite the fact that there is plenty of research point­ing in that direction.

These secret pro­posed treat­ies will enforce pat­ents that put the cost of basic phar­ma­ceut­ic­als bey­ond the reach of bil­lions; that privat­ise and pat­ent basic plants and food; and that pre­vent the shar­ing of cut­ting edge aca­demic research, des­pite the fact that this is usu­ally pro­duced by pub­licly fun­ded aca­dem­ics at our pub­licly fun­ded universities.

The price, even today, of try­ing to lib­er­ate research for the pub­lic good can be high, as Aaron Swartz found out earlier this year.  After try­ing to share research inform­a­tion from MIT, he faced a witch hunt and dec­ades in prison. Instead he chose to take his own life at the age of 26. How much worse will it be if TPP et al are ratified?

It is thanks to the high-tech pub­lisher, Wikileaks, that we know the sheer scale of the recent TPP débacle.  It is also heart­en­ing to see so many Pacific rim coun­tries oppos­ing the over­ween­ing demands of the USA. Aus­tralia alone seems sup­port­ive — but then region­ally it bene­fits most from its mem­ber­ship of the “Five Eyes” spy pro­gramme with America.
The intel­lec­tual prop­erty wars are the flip side of the global sur­veil­lance net­work that Snowden dis­closed — it is a clas­sic pin­cer movement.


As well as watch­ing everything we com­mu­nic­ate, the cor­por­at­ists are also try­ing to con­trol exactly what inform­a­tion we are leg­ally able to com­mu­nic­ate, and using this con­trol as jus­ti­fic­a­tion for yet more intrus­ive spy­ing. It’s the per­fect self-perpetuating cycle.

By cur­tail­ing the powers of the spy agen­cies, we could restore the inter­net to its ori­ginal func­tion­al­ity and open­ness while main­tain­ing the right to pri­vacy and free speech — but main­tain­ing a 20th cen­tury copyright/IP model at the same time is impossible. Or we could give up our pri­vacy and other civil rights to allow spe­cific pro­tec­ted indus­tries to carry on coin­ing it in. A last option would be to switch off the inter­net. But that is not real­istic: mod­ern coun­tries could not sur­vive a day without the inter­net, any more than they could func­tion without electricity.

As a soci­ety we’re going through the pain­ful real­isa­tion that we can only have two out of the three options. Dif­fer­ent cor­por­at­ist interest groups would no doubt make dif­fer­ent choices but, along with the vast major­ity of the people, I opt for the inter­net and pri­vacy as both a free chan­nel for com­mu­nic­a­tion and the free trans­fer of use­ful information.

Like any social change (the abol­i­tion of slavery, uni­ver­sal suf­frage), this is also accom­pan­ied by heated argu­ments, legal threats and repres­sion, and lob­by­ist pro­pa­ganda. But his­tor­ic­ally all this sound and fury will sig­nify.… pre­cisely noth­ing. Surely at some point basic civil rights will make a comeback, upheld by the legis­lature and pro­tec­ted by law enforcement.

The choice is simple: inter­net, pri­vacy, copy­right. We can only choose two, and I know which I choose.


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