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.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2012 @ 10:08am

    the best thing to happen now is for all Panamanian ISPs to shut down. i wonder how long the country would last with no internet access? what is worse, i wonder how long before some thick fucker in the USA or UK for example wants to do the same thing? people say the internet is impossible to destroy. with twats like this doing idiotic things like this, are you sure? and lets remember yet again, who is responsible for this atrocity. you've got it in one. the good old US entertainment industries under the leadership of pricks like Dodd!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2012 @ 9:35am

      may have no choice but to shut down, actually

      Switches and routers do nothing but copy and transmit 'copies' of data packets after all....

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), 4 Oct 2012 @ 10:09am

    Odd parallels

    Huh, how strange that this resembles a prior era of exporting the cultural norms and values of certain empires to the rest of the world...

    Interesting that it would be the media companies this time, rather than the prior group.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      MrWilson, 4 Oct 2012 @ 10:40am

      Re: Odd parallels

      The MAFIAA is the new East India Company. I can't wait to see the spiffy uniforms of their corporate soldiers with all the label and studio patches. Their helmets will probably have Mickey Mouse ears attached.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 4 Oct 2012 @ 10:29am

    This will end just like Prohibition ended

    You can only police people as much as they want to be policed. People form governments in order to (or overthrow them because they don't) protect everyone's rights and promote commerce.

    Since the US entertainment industry's value (eg, Hollywood) is much lower than all of the other commerce that the entire world does on the Internet, it is predictable how this global copyright gone insane will end.

    But before it ends, expect more thrashing from the dinosaurs. It won't end pretty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2012 @ 10:44am

    Pass El Popcorno.

    Munchas gracias.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2012 @ 11:18am

    Renove peoples entertainment and they will have more time to plot revolution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2012 @ 12:21pm

    If i was panama, id say something like, "sure ill sign in this crazy law, and ill even create a task force whose only job is to enforce it." then id hire a half blind guy with Alzheimer's to be the task force. If a law is only enforced as much as, say, jaywalking, who really gives a shit? looks nice to your cronies in the media, meets the demands of the US, everyone walks away happy. in 10 minutes everyone's attention will be on something else, and you can fire the old guy to save money.

    problem solved. your welcome panama.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mike42 (profile), 4 Oct 2012 @ 12:53pm


    I don't know what all you people are complaining about. This is obviously going to be a huge economic shot in the arm for Panama. Just think, all the billions of dollars normally lost to pirating will now go to the artists! I'm sure that in 2 or 3 years Panama will OWN Hollywood!

    But seriously, this is a nice experiment happening far away from where I live. Why, yes, I am a selfish bastard, thank you.

    Keep your eye on that Panama GNP...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    cosmicrat (profile), 4 Oct 2012 @ 1:27pm

    Viva la Pirate Party!

    Seems like there is a need for a new chapter forming. Sad state of affairs that U.S. sponsored corporate greed has brought us to this, but the world really needs more Robin Hoods these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 4 Oct 2012 @ 1:45pm

    It's plain as day

    This is corporate fascism at work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2012 @ 7:20pm

    Para ello: Descargar Hurt Locker en el ordenador de mi enemigo y luego llamar a la policía.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 4 Oct 2012 @ 7:35pm

    It doesn't matter. People will NOT stop doing what is socially accepted. At worst there will be shitloads of casualties before the Govt understand this can't do shit to stop file sharing. At best ppl will hide their arses.

    I hope Panama has very big jails. Actually, it'll be nice to be in jail there, all the good file sharers will be there =)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2012 @ 4:39am

    I'm worried. Right at the top of this article it says:

    by Tim Cushing

    But I have already memorized the whole article. Or part of it. And I wanted to flee to South America in a balloon. But now I don't feel safe there anymore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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