During discussion of granting President Obama Fast Track Authority to ‘negotiate’ the Trans-Pacific Partnership two friends recently asked me:
- why is TPP wrong for the U.S., for U.S. workers and businesses?
- where are the ideas to provide something better?
[Jump below the line for the short answer ☟]
A lot of the discussion has covered the potential loss of American jobs, with corporations preferring to move manufacturing to where labor costs are lower, or there are less regulations or oversight, but I’d like to consider an even broader issue. Creativity.
Let’s begin with a slight detour to think about culture, and in particular how digital media defines culture (a passing interest of mine, and hopefully yours if you’re reading this online).
“Free Culture” is the title of a book by Lawrence Lessig. It’s subtitle is – How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity.
Lessig outlines the problems and some solutions with our ability to easily copy and manipulate digital artifacts.
Interestingly enough you can download the book for free as a PDF file (or in many other formats) here. It’s licensed under a Creative Commons license, as is this article. (All of the original content on this website is similarly licensed, check the details at the foot of the page.)
In the interests of time, and in this age of instant communication (and gratification), here’s a video that gives an idea of the books argument.
Watch this 18 minute TED Talk given by Larry Lessig at Monterey in 2007. He tells three short stories to make his argument, and the remix illustrations are amusing. (The video is also licensed under a Creative Commons license.)
<1> John Philip Sousa and talking machines
<2> Celestial copyrights and common sense
<3> ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) cartel and BMI (Broadcast Music Inc)
<argument> for reviving our creative culture
Lessig’s concluding remarks:
“We live in this weird time. It’s kind of age of prohibitions, where in many areas of our life, we live life constantly against the law. Ordinary people live life against the law, and that’s what I — we are doing to our kids. They live life knowing they live it against the law. That realization is extraordinarily corrosive, extraordinarily corrupting. And in a democracy, we ought to be able to do better. Do better, at least for them, if not for opening for business.”
Whether you find Lessig’s arguments interesting or persuasive it’s fair to say that since the book’s release big business has tried, time and again, to wrest more control over creativity.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or House Bill 3261 of 2010 – “To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.”
The Senate’s PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, or PIPA) was a rewrite of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) of 2010.
It took activism by thousands of individuals, small businesses, the editorial boards of The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, along with Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay and a 24 hour black out of Wikipedia, to gather millions of signatures and create sufficient outcry against these proposed laws.
In case you can’t remember how strongly this issue was fought consider that Nancy Pelosi came together with Darrel Issa, and Rand Paul with the Obama administration, to speak out forcefully against SOPA and PIPA.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) first came to public knowledge when Wikileaks revealed details of the agreement being negotiated in secret (sound familiar?). Senators Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown asked for the details to be made public but were told by the Obama Administration that the text was “properly classified in the interest of national security.” ACTA was eventually signed by the U.S. in 2011 and the text published. It has not (yet) been ratified and put into effect. ACTA hoped to provide a mechanism for intellectual property rights enforcement designed to protect the interests of pharmaceutical companies with generic medicines, and the entertainment industries with copyright infringement on the internet.
ACTA was criticized by Doctors Without Borders for endangering access to medicines in poor countries and by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Software Foundation and many others for limiting online freedom of expression and communication privacy. Thankfully, the European Parliament voted against it.
ACTA was a worse agreement than the proposed PIPA and SOPA laws because of its broader international range, ease of enforcement and lack of transparency: secret negotiations, closed-door talks, no public discussion.
Edward Snowden’s revelations of the extent of blanket government surveillance and collusion with large U.S. corporations to spy on all citizens, confirm the fears of civil rights activists the world over – governments don’t want us talking to each other if they can’t listen in. Just this week the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider a FBI proposal to demand technology companies purposefully compromise encrypted communication systems despite leading security experts opposition. This to protect us from the bad guys, in a world where we are all suspected of being the bad guys.
PIPA, SOPA, ACTA all failed because of an enraged citizenry but soon, maybe as early as the end of this month, our legislators will have the finalized TPP (and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP) to review, full of the same unacceptable provisions.
Why is TPP/TTIP wrong for the country, workers and businesses? Because it stifles creativity. It aims to protect the status quo for businesses that will decline without extending their existing controls. It harms health, expression and open communication that are fundamental requirements for a prosperous people.
What proposals are better than TPP/TTIP? Here are some high-level suggestions to create a ‘commons’ for copyright (and copyleft).
Register all copyright (or copyleft) work to make it easier to obtain the rights to a work
Copyright (or copyleft) terms should be
– renewable, but not renew automagically
– prospective, with no retrospective extensions
Free Use versus Fair Use
– narrow the definition of derivative work
– make it easy to share for free
Fire Lots of Lawyers
– present costs for dispute resolution are too high, only big business & the 1% can protect their work
– replace with affordable, simpler system
Instead of adopting these simple ‘common sense’ proposals our elected representatives will decide, on a straight up-and-down vote, on many of the tortuous provisions in the previously rejected agreements.
Judge our representatives on this single vote. Make no mistake, TPP/TTIP will define our creative future.
“A free culture has been our past, but it will only be our future if we change the path we are on right now.” – Lawrence Lessig, preface to Free Culture
John Loughlin, Chair Communications Committee
The opinions expressed in this footnote are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Point Loma Democratic Club of which he is a member.
The image at the top of this article “CC guidant les contributeurs” is a derivative work licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. This is a retouched picture, which means that it has been digitally altered from its original version. Modifications: Changement de drapeau. The original can be viewed here: Eugène Delacroix – La liberté guidant le peuple.jpg. Modifications made by Ju gatsu mikka.