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 café in Strat­ford, East Lon­don, that has for years been known as the Olympic Café, has been ordered to paint over its sign for the dur­a­tion of the games. If I owned the café, 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 naïve 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.