Discussions on the Abolition of Patents for Inventions – Robert Andrew Macfie
In case you haven’t heard, the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement has been rejected by the European Parliament in a vote of 478 to 39 with 165 abstaining, with the only UK MEP voting in favour being Liberal Democrat, Bill Newton Dunn. Considering this is the party of Graham Watson, the MEP who boasts about his involvement with the horrendous European Arrest Warrant, this isn’t surprising.
Whilst this is certainly a good day for the internet and liberty, it will come as no surprise that the European Commission just isn’t going to give up. Now awaiting the ruling of the European Court Of Justice, should they declare ACTA compatible with EU law, it is likely the commission will put the agreement before parliament again. This battle is not over.
ACTA is also not the only international threat to the security of the internet. The Trans Pacific Partnership, TPP, is currently being written by the US Trade Representative’s Office and US Patent And Trademark Office, USTR and USPTO respectively, with Hollywood having an even heavier hand than with ACTA. The common phrase, “behind closed doors” simply does not do this new threat justice with even members of the senate and the house unable to gain access to the negotiations.
Last but not least on the forefront of threatening an open internet is the United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union, which with the support of the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association, is also proposing to levy a tax on all internet service providers and content delivery networks with the aim of raising revenue to keep afloat state run monopoly providers who are being squeezed by the competing private sector.
Whilst these threats lurk in the background, this day should still be celebrated by freedom lovers everywhere but nobody should believe we have secured the internet from the clutches of the state.
Note, in the interest of tonight’s Libertarian Home meeting concerning UKIP, you will be glad to know that not a single MEP from the party voted in favour of the agreement, with only Godfrey Bloom and Trevor Colman abstaining.
1. Data obtained from: votewatch.eu.
Is it time for “information based” industries to consider innovative adaptation, rather than legislation and prosecution, as a means of dealing with the hydra-headed beast of online piracy?
The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to hear a file-sharing case involving a $675,000 verdict against Joel Tennenbaum. While a college student, Tennenbaum illegally downloaded thirty songs and shared them on a peer-to-peer network. In Germany, the Pirate Party has won seats in four state parliaments. They favour a complete overhaul of copyright law, and national level polls put them near 11% of the popular vote. Pirate parties are springing up across the globe, and even the U.S. has seen its share of resistance towards the increasingly combative stance of the media industry. There was a fierce outcry in the States over the now failed SOPA and PIPA. Undoubtedly, there are more surprises awaiting both business and policymakers in the coming years.
Since copyright and patent law require a relatively compartmentalised market for enforcement to be effectual, the appearance of new and chaotic means of distributing pirated material could challenge the core of modern, “information based” business models. The Internet seems to have an uncanny ability to dynamically circumvent most censorship attempts. The Pirate Bay, the largest file-sharing website in the world, has recently published a guide on how its users can bypass court ordered blocks by ISPs. Like water, illegal file-sharing finds a way.
The leakage of pirated information into the public sphere affects more than the media industry. It affects every business model which depends on intellectual property to make a profit. The industrial revolution centralised the means of production away from craftsmen and artisans, but file-sharing has the potential to usher in a new era of decentralized manufacturing. Gadgets and medicine could be reproduced in local 3D printing shops, underground pharmacies, or even in the comfort of your own home, using illegally downloaded formulas and recipes. The day an affordable, medicine producing apparatus finds its way into retail hands, the holders of blue chip names like Johnson & Johnson, Glaxo, and Merck would be wise to unload their stock. Who will pay extortionate prices for life saving medicine when you can pirate molecule structures online?
In the information revolution of our day, multinational corporations play the role of the Luddites; a mob of legal teams wave pamphlets of patent and copyright legislation. One should ask whether “information based” businesses, threatened by a lack of effective copyright enforcement, should seek to adapt themselves to this new force of nature, rather than fight it with huge but leaking dams. By finding ways to lower prices, innovative companies like Spotify, Apple, and Netflix have demonstrated the benefits of initial compromise with the pirates; other companies could find even more radical ways to adapt. As information becomes more readily available, both legally and illegally, it’s increasingly clear that failing to adapt will be failing to survive.
The Internet is special because any two people on the ends of the network can connect, with no central authority in the middle having a say in it. Openess has allowed competition in the ultimate free-market. That marketplace of goods, services and ideas has sparked social, political and economic revolution. Centralised political control would destroy what makes the Internet special.
Now isn’t the time for new burdens on businesses. The recession is back and austerity not yet started.
ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement obligates online businesses to police the web on behalf of a dying industry of copyright owners.
They say they “need” it, but that sentiment violates the ecomonic rights of the majority for the sake of a minority of special interests.
Invented by Blair’s authoritarian government, the Communications Data Directive requires ISP’s to record everything you do online.
The “Communication Capability Development Program” is the stuff of science fiction: shadowy figures watching what you’re doing in real time leaving users no space to think, and seek information in private.
Disconnecting your broadband
The Digital Economy Act threatens broadband ISPs with fines and prison, forcing them to take part in a special system of copyright law enforcement. That process could disconnect your family from the Internet and endanger livelihoods and education.
No one should get special rules for their benefit. That is the rule of an elite, not the rule of law.
Strict network neutrality is the egalitarian idea that infrastructure providers in the middle of the Internet should offer their networks to everyone on identical terms.
This is well intended but it violates the rights of service providers who put up their own money to build effective networks.
Neutrality will block the development of new services. TV and telephony must be fast, other services, like massive data transfers for astronomers, must be slowed down to preserve the network for other uses.
Owners have a right to manage this their way.
Having your cake, and eating my cookies
It is obvious that web users are tracked by advertisers. “Cookies” used for tracking increase advertising revenues for publishers. Users can choose to stay away, or opt-out of tracking by changing a simple setting on their browser.
The EU’s Cookie Directive obligates websites to implement silly yet expensive pop up health warnings whilst offering little clarity about what those pop ups must look like.
Only a minority of users care about tracking, but the Directive threatens revenue for entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile users are encouraged to consume the benefit of free websites without having the cookies that help to pay for them.
Instead, we believe:
- Liberty requires one set of objective laws that apply equally to all.
- Innocent people should be left alone, not spied on.
- No one deserves special laws that lumber their problems onto others.
- Proper respect for property includes the right to choose how to employ assets, like networks.
- Blanket surveillance puts everyone at risk of a miscarriage of justice.
- We have a right to due process in open court.
- Patents and copyright enforcement should respect individual rights.
A few months ago, Tom Burroughes gave an enlightening talk on intellectual property to the assembled Libertarian Home group at the Rose & Crown. If you have not seen that talk, it’s available with an introduction by Simon, here.
Whilst Tom’s talk was certainly interesting and managed to catch me completely unaware of one of my own personal favourite Libertarians of all time, Lysander Spooner’s position on the matter of IP, what I consider to be the really valuable moment of the evening came from a small break off group’s comments afterwards. Before I reveal this great insight, there’s just a few things we need to take care of first that I feel Tom came just a bit too short on.
It will come as no surprise to anyone in this audience that free markets are an incredibly powerful force for good and that to work they require property rights. The utilitarian argument for property rights accepts this view. Why am I bringing up utilitarianism among Libertarians? Because the entire original reason for intellectual property was utilitarian, to ensure that sufficient profit incentives for content to be created existed so that a rich medium of works would be available for consumption by the public.
That this argument effectively rests on the idea of pragmatism and scarcity as an excuse is an argument I have never found persuasive both for IP and normal property rights. However, it is the utilitarian argument so that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Whether it violates the NAP is another consideration entirely and one that I won’t be discussing here.
So let’s assume that we’ve decided IP doesn’t violate the NAP. What then? Do we suppose to advance absolute IP control and the abolition of fair use? I don’t think anyone wants that nor truly believes that would be a positive move for the relevant mediums. However, it is clear that our current IP regime is hindering rather than helping the advancement of the science and the arts.
Billions that would otherwise be spent on R&D are now wasted fighting frivolous patent trolls and it has become a generally accepted notion in the tech industry that no matter what you do, you will violate many patents without knowing it and may be surprised with a lawsuit at a moments notice. This has led to 2 even more depressing, now standard practices. The first consists of rewarding the trolls by settling with them out of court. This is exactly what the trolls want as it means there is no lengthy, costly legal battle. The second is only open to larger companies with the intention being to build an arsenal of patents with which to scare off any potential troll. However it also means that each of the large companies threatens to wipe each other off the face of the Earth.
Some of you might be wondering how patent trolls can violate patents and are therefore scared off by these arsenals. Almost none of the companies which have made a business out of this actually produce any goods and are therefore known as non practicing entities. Well, thanks to the ridiculously huge volume of these government granted monopolies, that patent you paid thousands if not millions for might violate one held by someone else somewhere and the first you might hear of it is when you receive the ransom in the mail. This is obviously ridiculous and seriously calls into question what the function of the patent office is, if anything.
With this in mind we should look to rebuild IP and in the process truly understand what we are trying to achieve. Our current system mimics a field of potential, infinite in all directions with a single, thin brick wall a few meters wide at it’s center. As the people in the field go around the wall, they are adding to it, building nothing but brick walls with doors in them and charging to use the doors. As time goes on the brick wall gets longer making new arrivals have to go even further afield to find a way around and they too add to the wall when they find such an opportunity.
A new system of IP should be envisioned as an infinite field with an equally infinite long brick wall as the problem already in place from the state of nature. People who use their strength to bring down sections of the wall or those who build ladders from sticks should be rewarded for their ingenuity and allowed to charge for the use of the solutions they offer. They should not be given the opportunity to be rewarded for making the wall more difficult to cross, simply covering sections of the wall with bunting or in an even more offensive maneuver, pretending that a wall exists where none does. We should aim to have the wall covered in ladders and sections that have been brought down to the point where crossing is no longer a challenge and everyone involved can move on to bringing down the next problem that stands in their way.
Whilst it’s certainly not a perfect analogy I thought it was one of the best I have heard for how we should aim to restructure patents and copyrights, focussing more on expressions and solutions then just general ideas, no matter how good they may be.
The cover image, by Paul Stephenson, depicts a medieval cattle grid constructed from stone.
Thomas H. Burroughes will speak on “How should libertarians think about intellectual property” for the Libertarian Alliance at 7pm at The Institute of Education, Room S16, Thornhaugh Street, London, WC1B 5EA on Monday 11th June.
Mr Burroughes’ previous talk for Libertarian Home presenting the dillemas of intellectual property is available here.
A bunch of activists* are putting together the UK leg of what is said to be a global day of protest against ACTA, DEA, CDP/CISPA… basically the whole group of intellectual property supporting but freedom sapping legislative acts in America and the UK:
Global day of action and PROTEST against ACTA and as a local (to UK) extra – the Digital Economy Act that was rail-roaded through the final days of the last Labour government. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17270817.
Looks like SOPA/PIPA is not as dead as we would have liked either – the Americans have to fight CISPA too now. – very much like the snooping powers that our own government has backed down on (for now). For info on CISPA see http://youranonnews.tumblr.com/post/21314689010/come-together-to-stop-cispa-what-is-cispa-the
We need all groups to come together on this PROTESTERS, PIRATE PARTYS, SWP’s, UK COLUMN, BRITISH REVOLUTION, LAWFUL REBELLION, THE BRITISH CONSTITUTIONAL GROUP, UK UNCUT, BRISTOL CLASS ACTION, and every other protest group to join to make sure that these Act’s and Law’s are rejected once more.
It kicks off on the 9th of June. I’m posting it here because it’s certainly of interest, but these things are generally chock full of lefties talking about Social Justice, so it’s not a straightforward proposition. I’m interested to know what people think could be a good strategy when these events come along.
* I like that these things aren’t run by one group, it says a lot about social media and how that’s changing things, but it makes it really awkward to write about who is doing what… In this case it seems to be a loose alliance of the Pirate Party, Socialist Workers Party and Anonymous with the Open Rights Group helping out.