Thursday, February 2, 2012

ACTA, the Long Tail of SOPA

The string of circumstances that purports to care about the individual rights contained in copyright law has a very shady history, one that has been hidden away from public view while its proponents slide a high-inside pitch past the public. ACTA, the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, sounds like a consumer protection and isn't, it's a move by big business to keep us from prying their strangling fingers off our consumerist neck.
There are several things to which we should pay some strict attention during the heated discussion now in the press.
  • The current flap wouldn't even be flapping if it weren't for Julian Assange and Wikileaks, who brought this clandestine move to the public attention. It was meant to be a quietly stolen base, entirely outside the rules of the game.
  • The new rules proposed for the game were contrived in the dark of night, entirely by and to benefit the home team.
  • The dudes in favor of new rules to protect you and me (the actual authors of the new rules) are the same shabby bunch that have seen their grip on our throat weakened by internet access.
But now the proverbial cat is out of the bag and its howl is heard not only in the United States, but across Europe and elsewhere. ACTA signatorys are (thus far, according to Wikipedia) Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. The European Union and 22 of its member states signed as well, bringing the total number to 31. After ratification by 6 states, the convention will come into force. So much for 'majority,' this high inside pitch will be 'enforced' by a mere 20% approval of a hand-picked bunch of co-conspirators. I wouldn't count on ratification in Europe. The outcry surpasses that of its opponents in the U.S.

Two things are interesting to me as back-story to this shady deal.

First, the ongoing and seemingly never-ending pursuit of Julian Assange on what may (or may not) be a trumped-up sex charge in Sweden to sully his reputation and divert his personal attention elsewhere.

Second, the recent jailing in New Zealand of Megauploads owner Kim Dotcom (his legally changed name). His online Hong Kong-based company ran a number of online services related to file storage and viewing. The domain names were seized and the sites shut down by the U.S. Justice Department earlier this month, following the indictment and arrests of the owners for allegedly operating as an organization dedicated to copyright infringement.

The U.S. Justice Department may or may not have jumped the gun in this case, but the timing has certainly backfired, putting a glaring spotlight on what was up until now being handled almost entirely in the dark. Things they are a-changing and as the technology becomes available to get around Nike Air Jordans, overpriced Gucci handbags and punitively priced movie and music CDs, the over-pricers typically run for the law (even a contrived law in their own interest) or respond to market conditions and remain healthy businesses.

It remains to be seen where this will all shake out, but consumers are making their position pretty clear. They're tired of overpricing on items that bear so little resemblance to actual cost. They're also overwhelmingly willing to pay reasonable prices for quality.

Thus the actual culprit here is the producer, who gives not a damn for artistic integrity, preferring to pay off governments to protect an outrageously profitable monopoly. Whether or not they'll run off Scott-free with the loot remains to be seen.