TPP — copyright versus free speech

First pub­lished by RT Op-Edge.

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.

Pirate_Bay_LogoThey 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.

hAs 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.

My RNN interview — Snowden disclosures cause outrage across EU

Here is a recent inter­view I did for the Real News Net­work about the glob­al and European fall-out from the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures:

And here’s a ver­sion with the text.

A new threat to media freedoms

Writers of the world, beware.  A new threat to our free­dom of speech is loom­ing and, for once, I am not inveigh­ing against the Offi­cial Secrets Act.  

Over recent years the UK has rightly earned a pun­gent repu­ta­tion as the libel cap­it­al of the world. And now it appears that this won­der­ful prac­tice is going “off­shore”.

How did this whole mess begin?  It turned out that someone in the Middle East could take excep­tion to a book writ­ten and pub­lished about them in the USA.   US law, some­what sur­pris­ingly con­sid­er­ing its cur­rent par­lous state, provided no route to sue.   How­ever, some bright leg­al spark decided that the UK courts could be used for redress, provided the offend­ing book had been sold in the UK — even if only a hand­ful of second-hand books had been sold over Amazon​.co​.uk — and Mr Justice Eady helped the pro­cess along mag­ni­fi­cently.  

And so was born the concept of “libel tour­ism”.  Satir­ic­al cur­rent affairs magazine Private Eye has long been cam­paign­ing against this, oth­er UK news out­lets gradu­ally fol­lowed suit, and the UK gov­ern­ment is finally tak­ing steps to rein in these egre­gious, if luc­rat­ive, leg­al prac­tices.  

3_wise_monkeysBut, hey, that’s pre­cisely when your off­shore crown depend­en­cies, oth­er­wise known as Brit­ish tax havens, come into their own.  The UK has for years turned a blind eye to the dubi­ous fin­an­cial prac­tices of these islands, the most geo­graph­ic­ally con­veni­ent being the Chan­nel Islands and the Isle of Man, where the atti­tude to self-reg­u­la­tion makes the prac­tices of the Square Mile look pos­it­ively Vestal.

Now it appears that Guern­sey is look­ing to become a hub of anoth­er luc­rat­ive off­shore prac­tice: libel tour­ism.  

Guern­sey has its own par­lia­ment — the States —  and can make its own laws.  So as the libel door closes on the UK main­land, a firm of off­shore tax law­yers has iden­ti­fied a won­der­ful busi­ness oppor­tun­ity. 

Jason Romer is the man­aging part­ner and intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty spe­cial­ist at the large “wealth man­age­ment” leg­al firm Col­las Cri­ll.  Accord­ing to his firm’s web­site, he also, coin­cid­ent­ally, sits on the island’s Com­mer­cial IP Steer­ing Group and the Draft­ing Sub-Com­mit­tee, and is thus con­veni­ently on hand to steer the new legis­la­tion through the States.

Hogarth_judgeAlso coin­cid­ent­ally, he appears to be an enthu­si­ast­ic advoc­ate of Eady’s infam­ous “super-injunc­tion” régime which has had such a chillingly expens­ive effect on the Brit­ish media in the last dec­ade.

So, if this law is passed, any­one, any­where around the world will be able (if they can afford it) to register their “image rights” in Guern­sey.  These rights can even last indef­in­itely after the ori­gin­al owner’s death.

This means that any­one, any­where, who feels that their “image” has been inap­pro­pri­ately reproduced/copied/pirated — the cor­rect leg­al ter­min­o­logy is hazy —  can then sue through the Guern­sey courts for redress.  This could poten­tially be a power­ful new glob­al tool for the sup­pres­sion of free speech.  As pub­lic out­cry swells inter­na­tion­ally against the US IP laws, SOPA and PIPA, and across Europe against the utterly undemo­crat­ic ACTA, this new law is a giant leap pre­cisely in the wrong dir­ec­tion.  

Guern­sey, my island of birth, has changed out of all recog­ni­tion over the last thirty years.  Ever since the 1980s infest­a­tion of off­shore bankers and trust fund law­yers, it has been tar­mac-ed over by greed and social divi­sion. Before then it was proud of its egal­it­ari­an­ism, Nor­man-French her­it­age, beau­ti­fully ana­chron­ist­ic pace of life, and an eco­nomy based on toma­toes and tour­ism.

Now, if this law is passed, it will be known for its eco­nomy based on rot­ten fin­an­cial apples and off­shore libel tour­ism.

I just wanted to get that out of my sys­tem now — while I can still freely express my thoughts and before the island can sue me for dam­aging its “image rights”.… 

One man’s terrorist is another man’s activist

Here we go again.  In this heart­warm­ing art­icle in today’s Guard­i­an news­pa­per, Brit­ish MPs on the Home Affairs Com­mit­tee have decided that the inter­net is the most sig­ni­fic­ant factor in the rad­ic­al­isa­tion of viol­ent extrem­ists and con­clude that Some­thing Must Be Done.

One para­graph leapt out at me:

The Com­mons home affairs com­mit­tee says inter­net ser­vice pro­viders need to be as effect­ive at remov­ing mater­i­al that pro­motes viol­ent extrem­ism as they are in remov­ing con­tent that is sexu­al or breaches copy­right.” (My emphas­is.)

Anti_SOPA_cartoonMost of us are aware of the recent dog­fight in the US about the pro­posed SOPA and PIPA laws to crack down on copy­right infringe­ment and, as a res­ult, there is a some­what belated but stead­ily increas­ing out­cry in Europe about the immin­ent impos­i­tion of ACTA across the con­tin­ent.  

I have writ­ten before about how such laws provide the mil­it­ary-intel­li­gence com­plex with the per­fect stalk­ing horse for a pan­op­tic sur­veil­lance state, and the cam­paign­ing writer, Cory Doc­torow, summed it up beau­ti­fully when he wrote that “you can’t make a sys­tem that pre­vents spy­ing by secret police and allows spy­ing by media giants”.

And, lo, it is now appar­ently com­ing to pass.  The Par­lia­ment­ary half-wits are now pro­pos­ing to use com­mer­cial legis­la­tion such as the utterly undemo­crat­ic ACTA as a bench­mark for coun­ter­ing poten­tial ter­ror­ists and extrem­ists.  Might they have failed to notice the pleth­ora of exist­ing counter-ter­ror­ism and eaves­drop­ping legis­la­tion, put in place for this very pur­pose and already much used and abused by a wide range of pub­lic bod­ies in the UK?

This yet again high­lights the mis­sion-creepy Big Broth­er cor­por­at­ist group-think.  Rather than hav­ing to spell it out in bor­ing old lin­ear text, here is some use­ful link­age — what I like to think of as 3-D writ­ing: 

Pro­test­er = act­iv­ist = domest­ic extrem­ist = viol­ent extrem­ist = ter­ror­ist  

G20_kettling

I’m sure you can see where I am head­ing.  To name but a few notori­ous abuses, we already live in a world where west­ern gov­ern­ments and spy agen­cies col­lude in the kid­nap­ping, tor­ture and assas­sin­a­tion of alleged ter­ror­ist sus­pects; the NDAA now endorses these prac­tices with­in the US; Brit­ish police spy on inno­cent protest groups for years; legit­im­ate pro­test­ers can be “kettled”, beaten up and maced; act­iv­ists can be pre-empt­ively arres­ted as eas­ily in the UK as in Syr­ia; and where Amer­ic­an politi­cians want to des­ig­nate the high-tech pub­lish­ing organ­isa­tion Wikileaks as a ter­ror­ist group.

There is an old aph­or­ism that one man’s ter­ror­ist was anoth­er man’s free­dom fight­er.  I think the time has come for an update:

One man’s ter­ror­ist is anoth­er man’s act­iv­ist.  

And we are all increas­ingly at risk.