We've talked about just how ridiculous US policies towards highly skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs are for years. We're driving away the very people who can help create new companies and new jobs within our economy, and handing them, gift-wrapped, to other countries. And those other countries are increasingly aware of the massive opportunity the US is vehemently ignoring, and those other countries are becoming increasingly welcome to foreign high-skilled workers and entrepreneurs. The Economist has a good article highlighting just how backwards US policies on entrepreneur immigration are, especially compared to countries like the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, who are very welcoming towards foreign nationals who want to start companies in their countries. And then there are upstarts like Chile, who go so far as to simply hand large sums of cash to startups that want to set up shop there.
But the US keeps pushing such people away.
The article includes an example -- one of hundreds we've seen -- of entrepreneurs trying to setup a new company and create jobs in the US... only to be forced to do the same thing in another country (in this case, Canada). We're actively pushing away the job creators at a time when our economy needs jobs.
And, of course, while sometimes these individuals go to these other welcoming countries, some also just head back home. As the article notes, China has actually become pretty aggressive in offering some highly skilled workers who come back from trying to work in the US "not only free homes but also cash to buy furniture."
Honestly, it's pretty clear from the Economist piece that whoever wrote it is incredulous that the US would have such policies in place when they clearly harm its own interests. And, of course, the truly amazing thing is that over the years, the various efforts to fix these problems and welcome in skilled immigrants who create jobs always seem to get shot down. As we recently mentioned, the Startup Act 2.0 has been introduced, and even though it offers some pretty simple ways to let in a few more job creators, it's not clear that there's enough momentum to push it through (though, you can help change that by telling your elected officials to pass the bill). There are many different forms of protectionism -- and almost none of them are helpful. But it's perhaps worst of all when you're protecting yourself from job creators.
In recent months, Techdirt has reported on an important development in the world of medicine, as both India and Brazil have allowed local companies to produce cheap generic versions of drugs covered by patents. In an even bigger blow to Western pharmaceutical companies, it looks like China is following suit:
China has overhauled parts of its intellectual property laws to allow its drug makers to make cheap copies of medicines still under patent protection in an initiative likely to unnerve foreign pharmaceutical companies.
Even worse for those companies, the proposed legislation would allow Chinese generics to be sold in other countries:
For "reasons of public health", eligible drug makers can also ask to export these medicines to other countries, including members of the World Trade Organisation.
Both ACTA and TPP have clauses that would probably make that more difficult -- another reason why China is unlikely to sign up for either.
As the Reuters article quoted above explains, China has prepared this move carefully, consulting with other countries that have taken this route in order to prevent it being challenged in international forums like the WTO. It is yet another example of China moving up the production chain:
China's stable of generic drug makers has been producing the key ingredients -- or active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) -- in medicines for years, exporting them to foreign drug makers, which then sell the patented finished products back to China at prices which the average Chinese citizen often cannot afford.
Pharmaceutical companies in the West will doubtless fight this directly in the courts and indirectly through lobbying of their respective governments, but it's hard to see China backing down, since that would have negative consequences for the health of its citizens and entail an unacceptable loss of face.
For years, we've discussed how the US has put all sorts of pressure on China to boost its intellectual property enforcement regime -- and each time we warn that this is going to backfire in a big, bad way. To "appease" the US, China keeps ratcheting up its enforcement... but seems to have a habit of doing so in ways that hurt foreign companies. And, even though China declared its supposed copyright crackdown a "success," under increasing pressure to change its IP laws, China has announced plans to double the "fines" for infringement up to 1 million yuan (~$158,000). That seems perfectly in line with the ridiculous statutory rates currently found in the US, but seems even more out of place in China where the average citizen makes a lot less than the average American. Not that there's likely to be much of an effort to use such a law, but laws like these don't get people to respect copyright more. They do the opposite. When the penalties are so out of proportion to the action, no one takes the law seriously.
For decades, we've been hearing complaints from the entertainment industry about just how evil China was, and how rampant "piracy" was in China and how the country needed to crack down... blah, blah, blah. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Great Wall, it seems that Hollywood has finally realized that there are over a billion people in China, and a lot of them are interested in paying for American movies. Back in March, when the MPAA's yearly numbers came out (showing continued growth, of course), the report repeatedly mentioned the rapidly growing Chinese market.
What's interesting, though, is that this is now causing Hollywood to actually rethink how movies represent people in China. That link is to a recent segment from the radio show On the Media, where they talk about how Hollywood suddenly is bending over backwards to make Chinese consumers happy -- including changing the content of movies so as not to offend the Chinese. The key story: when MGM remade the movie Red Dawn (yes, another remake), it replaced the "Soviet" enemy threat from the original with a Chinese threat. Except... after the movie was done, the studio realized that might cut out the Chinese market, so they went back in and re-edited the film to make the Chinese people into North Koreans instead.
The studio is now digitally removing Chinese flags and military symbols from the movie and are hard at work re-recording dialogue so that no one mistakes the brazen invaders for the Chinese.
There seems to be something rather ironic in the fact that Hollywood spent so much time bitching about the awful Chinese market... and now they're making massive changes to movies just to appease that market... But, of course, there's a bigger lesson here: actually providing markets with what they want, rather than worrying about piracy, seems to be a pretty good way of making money. It's just too bad that Hollywood hasn't realized that back here at home yet.
It's no secret that Google has a troubled relationship with China: at one point leaving the market entirely, and later going back but with significant limitations, though where Google tried to be as transparent as possible about when information was being censored on behalf of the Chinese government. Last week, Google took another step, which was explained, somewhat cryptically, in a blog post about better search in mainland China. The company never comes out and says it, but it's basically hinting strongly at the fact that the Chinese government is censoring certain searches... and doing so in a way that basically blocks access to Google for a certain amount of time, if they catch you doing a "questionable" search. The way Google explains it:
Over the past couple years, we’ve had a lot of feedback that Google Search from mainland China can be inconsistent and unreliable. It depends on the search query and browser, but users are regularly getting error messages like “This webpage is not available” or “The connection was reset.” And when that happens, people typically cannot use Google again for a minute or more....
We’ve taken a long, hard look at our systems and have not found any problems. However, after digging into user reports, we’ve noticed that these interruptions are closely correlated with searches for a particular subset of queries.
Of course, they never say what that "subset of queries" might be, but you can take a guess.
The "solution" is that, similar (though slightly different) to Google's "autocomplete," Google, when accessed by Chinese mainlanders, will make suggestions on alternative searches that won't cause the user to be blocked from accessing Google:
It's a smart move by Google, but it does make you wonder if even having that trigger will now lead to being cut off. It's going to be a back and forth, cat and mouse game for a long, long time...
Back in February, we wrote up a warning to "the internet as we know it" as the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU) was looking to take over control of the internet, mainly at the behest of countries like Russia and China who were seeking a "more controlled" internet, rather than the very open internet we have today. The major concern was that almost no one in the US seemed to care about this or be paying much attention to it. The February call to action may not have done much, but the situation has certainly changed in the last couple of weeks.
Last week, the father of the internet, Vint Cerf, once again raised the alarm in both a NY Times op-ed and in a keynote speech at the Freedom to Connect (F2C) conference:
His concerns echo the ones we've been hearing for months. This move is about giving some countries much greater control over the internet:
Last June, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated the goal of Russia and its allies as “establishing international control over the Internet” through the I.T.U. And in September 2011, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan submitted a proposal for an “International Code of Conduct for Information Security” to the U.N. General Assembly, with the goal of establishing government-led “international norms and rules standardizing the behavior of countries concerning information and cyberspace.”
Word of a few other proposals from inside the I.T.U. have surfaced. Several authoritarian regimes reportedly would ban anonymity from the Web, which would make it easier to find and arrest dissidents. Others have suggested moving the privately run system that manages domain names and Internet addresses to the United Nations.
Such proposals raise the prospect of policies that enable government controls but greatly diminish the “permissionless innovation” that underlies extraordinary Internet-based economic growth to say nothing of trampling human rights.
It would guarantee moving the internet towards a model of top-down control, rather than bottom up innovation. It would give governments much more say in controlling the internet, unlike the hands-off system we have now, where no government truly has full regulatory control over the internet. It would almost certainly lead to more global restriction on the internet, including serious potential impact on aspects of free expression and anonymous speech. It might also make the internet much more expensive, as the whole ITU setup is about protecting old national telco monopolies, and many would see this as an opportunity to try to put tollbooths on internet data.
The ITU is holding a meeting in December in Dubai about all of this, and it appears that US officials are finally waking up to why this is a true threat to the open internet.
But it needs to go beyond that. The positioning of this discussion from ITU supporters is that the US government has "too much control" over the internet today. And one could argue that's true at the margins, though it's an exaggeration. For the most part the US government does not have much ability to control the internet directly. Now, I think plenty of people agree that the setup of ICANN and IETF are hardly ideal. In fact, they've got significant problems. But moving from that setup to one where the ITU is in charge would be a massive step backwards.
And, certainly, there is significant irony in the fact that Congress is suddenly acting so concerned about fundamental attacks on an open internet -- when many of the same officials were more than happy to toss out key principles of an open and free internet in the past few months with SOPA/PIPA/CISPA/etc. But, in this case, worrying about political consistency is a lot less important than stopping the ITU proposal from going forward.
When the US government started seizing domains, there was significant criticism of ICANN and calls for a more decentralized solution that no one could control. The move towards ITU oversight is a move in the opposite direction. It would make things significantly worse and not better.
For those in the US, we need to speak up and keep the pressure on our elected officials to fight this move in the ITU. While they're saying the right things now, we need to be vigilant and ensure it continues. Trust me, the "irony" of their own attacks on internet freedom and openness have not gone unnoticed by supporters of this ITU takeover plan. Expect them to offer "deals" to the US, by which the ITU gets control over the internet, in exchange for allowing the US to use that process to move forward with efforts to censor the internet for copyright reasons, as well as to get better backdoors to data for snooping.
For those outside of the US, it's also time to speak up. Don't fall for the easy story that this is just about wresting the control from US interests. If you believe in the value of a free and open internet, the ITU is not the answer. You, too, will inevitably be significantly worse off with what results.
The folks over at Access have put together a petition to tell the UN that the internet belongs to us, the people, not to the UN or the governments of the world. While the UN is not as subject to public opinion, if the world speaks out loudly enough against this effort to capture and control the internet, it won't be able to move forward. But people have to speak out to make this happen.
In a country where the mainstream media is tightly controlled, Chinese microblogs have provided an invaluable way for millions of people to find and share unofficial information. That's obviously problematic for the Chinese authorities, who have been gradually clamping down on what they term "rumors".
Things came to a head recently when posts about an alleged political coup in the country appeared on leading microblog services Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, resulting in both of them being punished for failing to pull the rumors fast enough. Now Sina, whose microblog service passed the 300-million user mark recently, has instituted strict rules for users, presumably in an attempt to placate the Chinese government and head off future punishments.
According to the regulations, users logging more than 5 posts of "sensitive information" would be prevented from posting for 48 hours and have the relevant content deleted. Further, those users posting "sensitive content" with "malicious intent" would be prevented from posting for more than 48 hours and face the possibility of having their account terminated.
Users have the right to publish information, but may not publish any information that:
1. Opposes the basic principles established by the constitution
2. Harms the unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of the nation
3. Reveals national secrets, endangers national security, or threatens the the honor or interests of the nation
4. Incites ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination, undermines ethnic unity, or harms ethnic traditions and customs
5. Promotes evil teachings and superstitions
6. Spreads rumors, disrupts social order, and destroys societal stability
7. Promotes illicit activity, gambling, violence, or calls for the committing of crimes
8. Calls for disruption of social order through illegal gatherings, formation of organizations, protests, demonstrations, mass gatherings and assemblies
9. Has other content which is forbidden by laws, administrative regulations and national regulations.
It is not permitted to use oblique expression or other methods to get around the aforementioned restrictions
However, this probably just means that microblog users will become even more "oblique" in their techniques to route around the new forms of censorship. Short of shutting down such services completely -- a move that would probably be dangerously unpopular now that so many people use them -- it's hard to see how the Chinese authorities can ever completely stamp out this kind of inventiveness.
We've written a few times that the end goal behind ACTA and TPP is to put in place frameworks by the US and Western Europe for certain things, and then pressure the key developing nations to join in based on the framework that has already been established. That is, let the US and Europe set the rules... and then pressure Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) countries to "join" later, when they can no longer influence the rules. It's not hard to see how the plan is really about looking for ways to stifle those up-and-coming economies. Of course, the end result will actually be the opposite. Since those countries won't be saddled with overly restrictive laws (hopefully), there will be interesting opportunities for businesses.
And, of course, among the BRIC countries, none is seen as important as China. Thus, the real goal behind TPP and ACTA isn't just to set up this framework around things like IP (TPP covers much more), but then to get China to sign on to support that framework. Of course, China, whose leaders are much more savvy than the west likes to give them credit for, have made it pretty clear that they have no interest in signing up for ACTA or TPP.
"regrets that China has not taken part in the negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)"
While the overall resolution covered a number of other trade issues concerning the EU and China -- meaning that those who voted for it may have been focused on other issues, rather than just this one -- there apparently was a vote specific to this line and it passed. MEP Christian Engstrom, who brought this to attention, notes that this should be a warning sign that, despite strong momentum against ACTA in the EU Parliament, it could still pass.
When it comes to ACTA and TPP, China is the elephant in the room -- or maybe that should be the dragon in the room. For without China's participation, these treaties designed to reduce counterfeiting will have little effect. And despite rather desperate optimism on the part of some that China will rush to sign up, its comments so far suggest otherwise.
A crucial factor here is China's own copyright framework, since this will inevitably color its perception of the terms of any treaty that it might sign. That makes the outcome of a planned third revision of its copyright laws highly pertinent to the fate of treaties like ACTA and TPP. A paper reviewing the current proposals, written by Hong Xue, Director of the Institute for Internet Policy & Law at Beijing Normal University, provides some valuable insights into the likely evolution of China's copyright law. Unfortunately, the signs are not good:
the Draft fails to review several misconceptions, such as "the more the better" (more copyright protection and enforcement, the better economic growth and social development), "one size fits all" and "modeling on US law" (on draconic enforcement rather than general and robust limitations and exceptions). It is unfortunately that China, the largest country by both population and Internet users, despite its fast-growing economy, seems keeping on the old track and missing the opportunities to revamp its Copyright Law in the new century.
In the area of limitations and exceptions, the latest draft makes things worse than today's rules:
According to the [current] Copyright Law, anyone may use a work for personal study, research and appreciation. The Draft, however, restrict the scope of private use to "making one copy of a work for personal study and research." It is annoying to exclude from the private use personal "appreciation", which is inherently hard to distinct from personal study and research, particularly on the Internet. It is even more worrisome to restrict private use to reproduction of a work. Under the Copyright Law, use of a work may include reproduction, translation, adaptation (such as remix or sampling), as far as the use is private. The Draft, however, only allows for reproduction and restricts to one copy.
That's crazy at a time when more and more people are using digital content in new ways that include precisely these things like remixing, sampling and adapting.
There's also bad news on the DRM front, which seems closely modeled on the US DMCA:
The biggest defect in this regard is that the Draft fails to address whether technological measures may be circumvented for the specified circumstances of limitations and exceptions to rights. For example, it is unclear under the Draft whether a user may circumvent a copy-protection measure on a work so as to make a single copy of work for personal study or research.
That's clearly a crucial issue. If circumvention is not allowed, then once again DRM can effectively take away what few rights users are granted in this area.
Finally, China also appears to be following the US in bringing in harsher copyright enforcement and disproportionate damages:
Copyright enforcement is tremendously enhanced under the Draft. Regarding civil remedies, damages could be several times of licensing fees if right holder’s actual loss and infringer’s illegal gains cannot be determined.
All-in-all, it looks like China has learned nothing from the West's mistakes. Instead, it seems to have taken the misguided view that if the West did it, China must do the same to "catch up". As the paper quoted above emphasizes, this is only a draft, and can still be modified. But based on what it already contains and the fact that organizing resistance against new laws in China is not the easiest of tasks, it looks increasingly likely that China too will be entering a period of copyright maximalism, with all the negative consequences for the Chinese public -- and possibly the world -- that this implies.
Last year, we wrote about one of China's chief censors, the creator of the Great Firewall of China, who did an interview where he talked about how important censorship was to protect people -- while also noting that he, himself, had five VPN accounts to get around the Great Firewall... for research purpose only (he promised). I'm reminded of this while reading an interview with a Kuwaiti censor who seems quite proud of her role in keeping horrible content from being consumed by people in Kuwait -- while also talking about how much she gets to learn in reading all this content.
But here’s where the reporter missed a golden opportunity to ask Dalal the one question that you must always ask a censor if you get to meet one: If the content you are censoring is so destructive to the human soul or psyche, how then is it that you are such a well-adjusted person? And Dalal certainly seems like a well-adjusted person. Although the reporter doesn’t tell us much about her personal life or circumstances, Dalal volunteers this much about herself and her fellow censors: “Many people consider the censor to be a fanatic and uneducated person, but this isn’t true. We are the most literate people as we have read much, almost every day. We receive a lot of information from different fields. We read books for children, religious books, political, philosophical, scientific ones and many others.” Well of course you do... because you are lucky enough to have access to all that content! But you are also taking steps to make sure the rest of your society doesn’t consume it on the theory that it would harm them or harm public morals in some fashion. But, again, how is it that you have not been utterly corrupted by it all, Ms. Dalal? After all, you get to consume all that impure, sacrilegious, and salacious stuff! Shouldn’t you be some kind of monster by now?
Thierer goes on to posit that the "Third-Person Effect Hypothesis" explains the issue. It says that "people will tend to overestimate the influence that mass communications have on the attitudes and behavior of others," while assuming, however, that they are somewhat immune to those effects. It's an interesting post, and that question should be used whenever anyone has the pleasure of meeting (or better yet, interviewing) an official government censor.
Leigh Beadon: @GM i felt like John Oliver needed a couple episodes to settle into the rhythm and now he's right on point. He's always been good though, and he's slowly bringing a bit of his own flavour to it but yeah, the writing team is the same i'm sure, just with a different guy delivering (and possibly approving) the jokes Mike Masnick: btw, i only just discovered last week that john oliver has a weekly podcast. which is awesome Great Mizuti: @ssc, i could not get passed the second paragraph in that article. run-ons and fragments and grammar, oh my! this is clearly not the official spokesman for the future of the industry. @mike, does he really?!? i did not know this. seems like something i can't live without now that i know about it. Mike Masnick: http://thebuglepodcast.com/ silverscarcat: GM, I could barely read the article myself. John Fenderson: Wow. I seriously think that AJ has finally suffered a complete psychotic break. Josh in CharlotteNC: Not the first time, John. He's been overdue for awhile. silverscarcat: Which thread? Jay: He now has a pastebin for just Mike. Wow, he just doesn't quit... John Fenderson: @silverscarcat: All of them. silverscarcat: Wow... I think the funny men with the little white coats need to pay him a visit. Jay: ... I just thought about what the NSA is doing... They're creating the largest collection of books in history. Conceptually speaking, they're archiving and vacuuming all of the books that they can't read. BentFranklin: Links in comments need a new style. You can barely see them. How about bold them like in articles? silverscarcat: Holy... OUch, it gets worse and worse for MS these days. http://www.warpzoned.com/2013/06/congressmen-propose-we-are-watching-you-act-an-anti-kinect-bill/ Ninja: People should just report and ignore the link troll.. I like how some of the most wacky comments from the trolls are being left alone under the pinkish link