ACTA Dealt Heavy Blow In EU Parliament

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.

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Piracy and Profit, Adapt or Die

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.

© John Abella

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 Open Internet Under Attack

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.

Burdening businesses

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.

Acting creepy

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.

Neutralising middlemen

Individual Rights exist for every individual, equally

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.