The New Imperialism: Forcing Morality Shifts And Cultural Change Through Exported IP Laws
from the one-world-one-vision dept
As could probably be expected after its quick trip through the Congress, Panama’s 510 Bill became law last Friday, granting its Copyright Office unprecedented power to pursue filesharers directly. But this is only one of several problems with the 510 Bill. The bill goes further than any US law, extending copyright protection to buffer copies and content stored in cache.
Transient copies, such as buffer copies on a computer’s random access memory (RAM), are necessary for a host of streaming services that carry content over the internet to end users. Recognizing a right to exclude such copies, in addition to the ultimate right to distribute the content itself, adds another layer of licensing requirements that can block innovative services (like Netflix or Pandora) from being offered. Many other trade agreements and national and regional laws contain explicit exceptions for “transient” or “incidental” copies necessary for technological or other communications. But the Panama Free Trade Agreement contains nothing of the kind, and neither does Panama’s law. By extending protection to temporary electronic storage, with no clear exception for transient electronic copies – the Panama bill fails to give internet service providers and other businesses the legal certainty they need to enter and maintain operations in Panama’s market.
The law also severely limits fair use, moving from an open-ended clause to a “closed list” system which narrowly defines fair use limitations and exceptions. The US has an open system, much to the chagrin of various content industries. Moving other nations to this more restrictive standard first will make it easier to bring ourselves in line with several other nations sometime down the road.
Users’ rights are also being narrowly defined, erasing any trace of “balance” in Panama’s copyright law. Between the severely limited fair use, the extension of protection to cover nearly every file that moves through a user’s computer during normal internet usage and the government’s ability to pursue filesharers with the burden of proof falling to the citizens, the public is left with nearly nothing.
Compare this legislation with Portugal’s response to filesharing: a “hands off” approach to non-commercial infringement and the recognition that an IP address isn’t necessarily a person. I would imagine that Panama’s copyright office won’t be interested in making that distinction, not when bonuses are at stake.
Is there a huge cultural difference in play here or is it just varying levels of pressure from content controllers (used to differentiate from content “creators,” not all of whom espouse the same view as the industry “representatives”)? Up until recently, Spain’s view on filesharing was roughly the same as Portugal’s, a viewpoint that seemed to draw extra attention (read: “pressure”) from the US government and its associated trade organizations.
As the EFF notes, many Latin American countries used to have more progressive copyright laws, but recently passed legislation has changed much of that. The previous laws drew the attention of the US government, either landing these “non-conforming” countries on the infamous Special 301 list or threatening their participation in bilateral free trade agreements. Further pressure is being exerted by the highly secretive TPP whose negotiations seem to consist of shutting the public out and telling other nations how to run their own countries, IP-wise, while excluding them from negotiations.
Colombia pushed through incredibly extreme copyright legislation ahead of a visit from President Obama, ignoring an outraged public which had staged SOPA-style protests during the law’s debut months earlier. Spain, like Portugal, also considered filesharing legal, until the US stepped in and rewrote its copyright laws after smacking it around with an appearance on the Special 301 report. Switzerland pushed back against outrageous Hollywood-backed claims about filesharing and is now on The List. Canada recently went through some copyright reform of its own, but apparently not to the liking of the entertainment industry, which has suggested it will simply overwrite the parts it doesn’t like with the TPP.
The end result is the US government using protectionist policies to force cultural change on other countries, shifting legislative viewpoints to match up with corporate demands which routinely exceed the severity of our existing laws. In essence, “your culture is wrong.” Should the US government be in the business (and it is very much a business) of applying “our” moral standard on other countries, especially when non-conformance is subject to threats implicit and explicit?
It’s been stated here before that infringement is not a moral issue, but those pushing for harsher legislation and more enforcement abroad certainly believe it is. Making countries subject to compliance with an arbitrary moral standard (written by certain industries) as a prerequisite for entering an advantageous trade agreement doesn’t create copyright converts. Instead, it creates the IP equivalent of “rice Christians” who allow the US to rewrite their IP laws in order to prevent being locked out of beneficial agreements by one of the most prosperous nations in the world. The end result is coerced compliance that runs roughshod over existing IP laws at the expense of their own constituents.
Applying a new moral standard via the institution of new laws that only benefit the industries being catered to sounds a lot like an advantaged group using its governmental patrons to conform the world to its preferred standards. The government of perhaps the most powerful nation in the world at your fingertips is the sort of thing that no industry, no matter how “beleaguered,” should ever have at its disposal.
The end result is an entertainment industry occupation by proxy. The limitations enacted in order to enter a free trade agreement put these countries at a severe disadvantage by crippling local tech industries. Opening trade means very little when innovation is thwarted by legislative overreach.
Free trade agreements have great potential to unleash new competition in markets, producing better products and services at lower prices. This assumes, however, that these agreements actually lower barriers to trade.
Unfortunately, due to misaligned priorities and poor drafting, the U.S. Government’s framework for free trade agreements has neglected aspects of U.S. law that are instrumental to a flourishing Internet sector, and in doing so has erected new barriers to tech exports.
The trend of expanding liability and constraining the balancing provisions of copyright law also manifested recently in Colombia. Also responding to a recently enacted Free Trade Agreement with the United States, Colombia hurriedly passed a controversial copyright revision this spring which similarly left little flexibility for technology innovation. The upshot of the copyright law revisions in these countries is to erode certainty and discourage investment by online services, e-commerce platforms, device manufacturers, and ISPs. This is not lowering barriers to market access.
It would be a mistake to understand this as solely an issue affecting U.S. exports, however. In fact, it is a more serious issue for our trading partners, because while U.S. firms may look to more fertile export markets, Colombian and Panamanian firms must survive at home before they can reasonably expand abroad.
An economy stifled by restrictive additions to existing IP laws puts the continuing development in the hands of American special interests who don’t actually care whether or not a country thrives as long as their own interests are protected. Sabotaging innovation to protect legacy business models is nothing more than imperialism redefined. The entertainment industry, speaking through the government, is now an occupation force, one that uses “free trade” as a cover for top down dominance of the native population by removing protections, erecting barriers and excluding the affected constituents from the legislative process.