70 Groups Tell Congress To Put The Brakes On Any Further Efforts To Expand Intellectual Property

from the time-for-a-rethink dept

Over 70 different groups, including many who were central to the January 18th online protests against SOPA, have put together a letter asking Congress to put a halt to any attempts to further expand intellectual property laws. The key point:
Now is the time for Congress to take a breath, step back, and approach the issues from a fresh perspective. A wide variety of important concerns have been expressed – including views from technologists, law professors, international human rights groups, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and above all, individual Internet users. The concerns are too fundamental and too numerous to be fully addressed through hasty revisions to these bills. Nor can they be addressed by closed door negotiations among a small set of inside the-beltway stakeholders.
The letter goes on to point out that Congress cannot and should not continue only taking one industry's point of view into account -- and most certainly should not ignore how existing law is already being abused. Historically, this is exactly the kind of letter that Congress would ignore, but after the events of January 18th, perhaps it'll start paying attention.

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  1. icon
    Paul Hobbs (profile), 7 Feb 2012 @ 3:31am

    This is very encouraging

    Recently I posted a comment appealing to Americans to mobilise, take a stand, and basically do something about all the crap which is going on (eg: corruption in Washington; unwarranted power of MAFIAA; erosion of rights in the name of national security; huge drop in journalism standards; etc). I have to say, this letter is very encouraging. The response of people (not just in the US, but across the world) to injustice, corruption, abuse of power, etc, is wonderful to see. Hopefully the protests in Europe will see ACTA go the way of SOPA/PIPA.

    It seems to me that the best thing which can happen now is for HUGE numbers of people - ordinary folk with jobs, mortgages, etc - to actually make the (minimal) effort to contact their representatives and endorse the objectives of the letter. The more I think about it, the more I am amazed at the paradox of how democracy can become so warped and deformed, despite the fact that such warping and deformation can be prevented by simply participating. All it takes is a phone call or an email, or even a visit in person to make an impression on a representative, and right there you have democracy in action. (Perhaps it isn't strictly a paradox, but it is puzzling).

    I recently watched the video of Jack Abramoff being interviewed by Lawrence Lessig, and I was transfixed. It was fascinating to me how things actually work in Washington (and I'm not even American). But the most telling part (for me) came towards the end where a member of the audience asked "how does a new member of Congress get corrupted?" And the answer was chilling in its simplicity. When newly elected politicians arrive in Washington, the first thing that happens is they meet with their leadership. The leadership informs new members that their number one priority is to get re-elected at the next election. And since most new members arrive with a debt (presumably from running a campaign), the leadership informs the new members that they need to retire that debt. And here is a group of people who are very good at helping you to retire that debt - meet the lobbyists. Now the lobbyists (for the most part) represent large corporations and other special interests (eg: MPAA, RIAA, etc). But here is the kicker. Lobbyists, companies, etc can give all the money they want to a member of Congress (and in doing so "buy" a vote), but there is one thing they can't do (despite a corporation being a "person", which frankly is ridiculous), which real people can do. Vote. If a member of Congress was inundated, on a scale previously unheard of, with phone calls, letters, emails, and personal visits, I suspect that most members would take notice, and probably do the right thing (whatever that is). Remember, the leadership has already told them that priority number one is to get re-elected. I suspect that the reason it is so easy for lobbyists and special interests to get their way is it is a one-sided tug-o-war. There aren't enough people pulling the members of Congress in the other direction.

    Which brings me to my next observation. A democracy is a double edged sword. It is great because it affords us many freedoms. But it demands that EVERYONE participate. If only a handful participate, you may have elections, and you may call it democracy, but to the extent that people are not involved (usually out of apathy), it is not a democracy. In ancient Greece, the term "idiot" referred to a private person, a person who took no interest in politics. Involvement or participation doesn't necessarily mean running for office, or volunteering in a campaign, or joining a party. Personally, I define participation as making your views known to your representative. That is as simple as it needs to be. If 100% of the population did that, lobbyists would be completely redundant.

    The tricky part, of course, is how do you get people involved? How do you motivate someone to make that phone call or write the letter? I think the thing which prevents most people is inertia. Somehow we need to make taking that first step (eg: writing a letter or an email) as painless as possible. The Internet is probably the single most powerful tool available for connecting with people to get them motivated/activated. And there are probably lots of strategies for achieving this. But that needs to be the goal - mass mobilisation.

    I am reminded of some of the things that Winston Churchill had to say about government and governing:

    "But it is not Parliament that should rule; it is the people who should rule through Parliament."

    "No-one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

    PS: Sorry for the long post - I get carried away sometimes.

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