[LINK] Digital copyright: it's all wrong
stephen at melbpc.org.au
stephen at melbpc.org.au
Tue Jun 10 09:01:12 AEST 2008
Digital copyright: it's all wrong
Graeme Philipson June 10, 2008
A draft treaty proposes draconian measures to protect copyright.
THE forces of reaction are fighting back. As they often do, they are
carrying out their planning in secret, in the knowledge that if more
people knew of their activities they would not be allowed to get away with
The US (surprise, surprise) has circulated a draft "Discussion Paper on a
Possible Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement" (ACTA) for the next G8
meeting, in Tokyo in July. The full text of the document has been
published on Wikileaks (wikileaks.org).
The ACTA draft is a scary document. If a treaty based on its provisions
were adopted, it would enable any border guard, in any treaty country, to
check any electronic device for any content that they suspect infringes
copyright laws. They need no proof, only suspicion.
They would be able to seize any device - laptop, iPod, DVD recorder,
mobile phone, etc - and confiscate it or destroy anything on it, merely on
suspicion. On the spot, no lawyers, no right of appeal, no nothing.
The draft contains other draconian measures. It proposes a governing body
for copyright protection that would operate outside organisations such as
the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the UN. In short, it proposes a
global police force, answerable to no one, with intrusive powers that
vastly exceed those currently available to adherents of the concept of
The proposed treaty is being sponsored by a small group of US Congress
members, all of whom Wikileaks says have received significant
contributions from major record companies and film studios. As they
say, "follow the money".
The first newspaper to break the story was Canada's The Ottawa Citizen,
which in a story by Vito Pilieci on May 24 picked up on the Wikileaks
posting. Since then the blogosphere has been rife with stories about the
move. Most commentators are outraged that such a proposal is even being
For 10 years in this column and elsewhere I have been arguing that the
concept of copyright, and by extension most forms of so-
called "intellectual property", are irrelevant in the digital era. I was
once, with just a few others, a voice in the wilderness. Now most people I
talk with agree.
The copyright mafia have tried all sorts of things, including the
absurdity of Digital Rights Management (DRM), which attempts to use
technology to hobble technology. They have maliciously prosecuted
individuals for the "crime" of copying music from one medium to another.
DRM is struggling, but we still see stupidity everywhere. Apple doesn't
let you copy stuff off your iPod - you have to use third-party software to
perform what should be a simple task. Foxtel's iQ and Austar's MyStar
don't let you copy stuff off those boxes to other media.
Downloaded movies self-destruct after a limited time. It is still illegal
in Australia to copy a CD to another CD (only "format shifting" is
allowed), or to record a TV show for any other purpose than watching it
Whether this absurd treaty becomes reality or not, it indicates the
lengths to which some are prepared to go. They will use any means to fight
a technology that threatens their anachronistic monopoly of the
distribution of digital content.
Clever people are taking advantage of the technology to develop new
business models and reach new audiences. Bands are bypassing record
companies and going direct to consumers. Authors are publishing online.
Small moviemakers are finding new outlets through the wonders of the
The big record companies and film studios have a clever answer - turn
everybody into criminals. Use treaties and laws to try to prevent people
doing what comes naturally and, in the digital age, easily.
The most that can be hoped of the proposed ACTA treaty is that, if it
comes into being, it will further expose the futility of legislating
against the key advantage of digital technology - the ease with which
content can be stored, copied and transmitted. Where the technology is
liberating people and content, the powers of reaction are attempting to
Fortunately they are on the wrong side of history. When the full details
and consequences of this treaty become widely known, I believe the effect
will be the opposite of what its authors intend. It contains so little
understanding of the way the digital world works that the backlash against
it will be massive, accelerating the inevitable death of the out-of-date
business models it is vainly trying to protect.
graeme at philipson.info
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