It's a curious fact that the term of copyright only ever gets longer. Since copyright is a government-backed monopoly, and monopolies are generally regarded as bad things, you might have expected some countervailing pressure against this continual extension, and that at some point Peak Copyright would have been reached. You might, if you were extremely optimistic, even expect copyright term to be reduced occasionally.
Of course, it doesn't work like that. Copyright term is like a ratchet, that only admits movement in one direction: upwards. We have become so inured to this that we rarely stop to ask why. But you only have to look at the way major treaties like ACTA are negotiated in secret to note that while industry groups are given privileged access to the negotiators, the public is not even allowed to see the draft versions of the treaty. There is simply no voice behind the closed doors which might object to the unremitting erosion of the public domain, or protest against the constant sharpening of copyright enforcement's instruments.
Here's an example of a similar state of affairs in the UK, where the detailed implementation of the Digital Economy Act – itself legislation that paid no heed to the concerns or cares of the public – is being debated. Using Freedom of Information requests, the UK's Open Rights Group (ORG) found out some details of "private" meetings that the Minister responsible, Ed Vaizey, held on the topic of the Act's new "streamlined" website blocking scheme.
As the list of participants shows
, the main groups present were the copyright lobbying organizations - BPI, Publishers Association, MPAA, UK Music, UK Interactive Entertainment – some big Internet names (Google, Yahoo), several UK ISPs and a few government advisers. Judging by the minutes of that meeting
, also obtained under an FOI request, Google actually expressed support
for "an accelerated Court process to generate blocking orders" – thanks, a bunch, Google – while Yahoo worried about "the broader implications of site blocking on an international scale". The ISPs, as might be expected, focused on how they might be affected.
There was just one group that might vaguely be construed as representing the people – Consumer Focus. This organization describes itself as a "statutory consumer champion
", "persuading businesses, public services and policy makers to put consumers at the heart of what they do." According to the minutes, Consumer Focus (CF):
emphasised that action against infringement needs to be effective and proportionate, pointing to the risk of over-blocking. The rights holder proposal paper goes further than the scope of Newzbin2. CF queried the feasibility of expediting the Court process. CF reiterated the importance of developing the legitimate market, as a preferable alternative to enforcement measures which may impact on consumers.
That's all good stuff, but it was clearly a voice crying in the wilderness since the copyright industries' groups had got together to prepare a joint seven-page "Proposal for Code of Practice Addressing Websites That Are Substantially Focused On Infringement
", which they used to frame the discussions with Vaizey.
The meeting was clearly stacked in favor of the copyright industries against the public interest, with only a token voice speaking up for the consumer. Conspicuous by their absence were several other important stakeholders whose views should have been heard. For example, the UK human rights group Liberty
would surely have had something to say about the proposed online censorship, as would ORG itself, which has fought on behalf of the general public in the area of digital rights for years.
In fact, when people found out about these "private" meetings that had excluded so many other organizations, ORG and some others were finally invited to another meeting with Vaizey
, for an interesting reason:
The meeting was organized by Dominque Lazinksi of the Tax Payers Alliance after a Twitter storm following ORG and other group’s exclusion from the website blocking meetings.
The moral seems clear: if you want to break up the cozy club of industry insiders plotting even longer, harsher intellectual monopolies, you have to kick up a hell of a fuss.
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