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.

The Keiser Report – my recent interview

My recent interview on Max Keiser’s excellent RT show, The Keiser Report, apparently now the most watched English language news commentary show across the world.

We were discussing such happy subjects as the war on terror, the war on drugs, but predominantly the war on the internet:

The Olympics – Welcome to the Machine

Published in The Huffington Post UK, 27 July 2012

OK, I was really so not planning on ever writing anything, whatsoever, at any point while I continue to breathe, about the London Olympics.  First of all I have absolutely zero interest in the circus that is modern competitive sport (panem et circenses), and secondly what more could I possibly add to the scandals around the security?  All the information is out there if people choose to join the dots.

But synchronicity plays its part.  Firstly, this morning I read this excellent article by former UK ambassador-turned-whistleblower, Craig Murray, about how the UK is now under martial law in the run-up to the Olympics.  Shortly afterwards I did an interview with the women’s glossy magazine, Grazia, about the security set-up around the games. I know, I know, sometimes the heavens align in a once-in-a-century configuration……

So on the back of this fortuitous alignment and while my angry-o-meter is still spiked at the “dangerous” level, I wanted to set some thoughts down.

Craig is correct – because of the Olympic Games, London has gone into full martial law lock-down.  Never before in peace-time has the capital city of the formerly Great Britain seen such a military “defensive” presence: missile launchers on local tower blocks primed to blow straying commercial airliners out of the skies over London, regardless of “collateral damage”; anti-aircraft bunkers dug in on Greenwich common; and naval destroyers moored on the Thames.

Plus, absent the promised G4S publicly-funded work-experience slaves – sorry, security staff –  the military has been drafted in.  Soldiers just home from patrolling the streets in Afghanistan in daily fear of their lives have had all leave cancelled.  Instead of the much-needed R & R, they shall be patrolling the Olympic crowds.  Does anyone else see a potential problem here?

And all this follows a decade of erosion of basic freedoms and civil liberties – all stripped away in the name of protecting the UK from the ever-growing but nebulous terrorist threat.

But I would take it a step further than Craig Murray – this is not just martial law, this is fascist martial law.

(And being conscious of any potential copyright thought-crimes, I hereby give all due credit to a very famous UK TV advert campaign which appears to use the same cadence.)

Why do I say this is one step beyond?

The Italian World War II dictator, Benito Mussolini, is famously credited with defining fascism thus: “the merger of the corporate and the state”.

And this is precisely what we are seeing on the streets of London.  Not only are Londoners subjected to an overwhelming military and police presence, the corporate commissars are also stalking the streets.

When Seb Coe and Tony Blair triumphantly announced that London had won the Olympics on 6th July 2005, one of their mantras was how London and the UK would benefit from the presence of the games.  They painted a rosy picture of local businesses booming on the back of the influx of tourists.

But the cold reality of today’s Olympics is greyer.  Commuters are being advised to work from home rather than use the overloaded transport networks; the civil service is effectively shutting down; and Zil lanes for the “great and the good” of the Olympics universe are choking already congested London streets.

Even worse, businesses across the UK, but particularly the local ones in the economically deprived environs of the Olympic Park in East London, are categorically NOT allowed to benefit from the games.  Under the terms of the contracts drawn up by the corporate mega-sponsors, London small businesses are not allowed to capitalize in any conceivable, possible, miniscule way on the presence of the games in their own city.

And these terms and conditions are enshrined in the Olympics Act 2006; any infraction of the rules carries a criminal penalty.  For more than a week, corporate police enforcers have been patrolling London looking for infractions of the Olympic trademark.  And this goes way beyond “Olympics R US” or some such.  As Nick Cohen wrote in an excellent recent article in The Spectator magazine:

“In the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act of 2006, the government granted the organisers remarkable concessions. Most glaringly, its Act is bespoke legislation that breaks the principle of equality before the law. Britain has not offered all businesses and organisations more powers to punish rivals who seek to trade on their reputation. It has given privileges to the ­Olympics alone. The government has told the courts they may wish to take particular account of anyone using two or more words from what it calls ‘List A’ — ‘Games’; ‘Two Thousand and Twelve’; ‘2012’; ‘twenty twelve’. The judges must also come down hard on a business or charity that takes a word from List A and conjoins it with one or more words from ‘List B’ — ‘Gold’; ‘Silver’; ‘Bronze’; ‘London’; ‘medals’; ‘sponsors’; ‘summer’. Common nouns are now private property.”

I heard recently that a well-established local cafe in Stratford, East London, that has for years been known as the Olympic Cafe, has been ordered to paint over its sign for the duration of the games. If I owned the cafe, I would be tempted to sue the Olympic Committee for breach of trademark.

It seems to me that this real-world trademark protectionism is an extension of the ongoing copyright wars in cyberspace – a blatant attempt to use state level power and legislation to protect the interests of the wealthy international mega-corps few.  We saw early attempts at this during the South African Football World Cup in 2010, and the Vancouver Winter Olympics the same year.

But the London Olympics take it to the next level: there is a long list of what you are not allowed to take into the stadia.  Spectators will be subjected to airport-style security theatre.  This will ensure that no liquids of more than 100ml can be carried, although empty bottles will be allowed if people want to fill them up with tap water on site.  This, of course, means that more spectators will be buying their sponsor-approved liquids in situ and at no-doubt over-inflated prices, to the benefit of one of the key Olympic sponsors.

The London games seem to be the first time that the global corporate community is demonstrating its full spectrum dominance – where the legal, police, and military resources of the state are put at the disposal of the giant, bloated, money-sucking leech that is the International Olympic Committee.

Every city that has hosted the Olympics over the last four decades has been financially bled white; many are still paying back the initial investment in the infrastructure, even if it is now decaying and useless. Greece, anybody?

But do the IOC or its regional pimps care?  Hell, no. Like all good parasites, once the original host has been drained dry, the Games move on to a new food source every four years.

What really, deeply puzzles me is why the hell are the people of London not out there protesting against this corporatist putsch?  Perhaps they fear being shot?

How can it be a crime to take a full bottle of water into a stadium when you want to watch a sport? How can it be a crime to tweet a picture?  How can it be criminal to celebrate the occasion in your local pub with Olympic flags draped around your bar, drinking a beer and eating a burger marketed cheesily as “fit for champions” or some such?

The original ideals behind the reconstitution of the modern Olympics in 1896 were a highly romanticised and distorted vision of the values of the ancient games.  But even that naive ideal has been lost in the crapulous corporatism that is the modern event.

We have even gone way beyond the Roman view of bread and circuses placating the masses.  Now we are into the hardcore realpolitik of international corporations and national governments using the games as a perfect pretext to tighten the “security” screws even more.

And so the UK is proud to present full-blown Corporate Fascism Version 2.0.

Vae victis.