“The Oil of the 21st Century” conference on Intellectual Property conflicts and perspectives was officially launched thursday night in Berlin, where the was a discussion of Terror, Drugs and Piracy in the shadow of Deleuze’s Post-Script on the Society of Control. I’ll post the notes from my talk next week.
The main event unfolds from next friday at Tucholskystr. 6 in Mitte, and I’ll be on a panel with Daniela from Piratbyran and Volker Grassmuck on saturday, discussing the pros and cons of thelegalization of file-sharing from a users’ perspective. All the necessary information is to be found on the website. The conference title is taken from Mark Getty, scion of an oil fortune, of Getty Images’ characterization of IP as the oil of the 21st century in an interview with the Economist magazine in 2000.
“The coils of a serpent are even more complex
that the burrows of a molehill.”
Last week I made my first ever visit to Norway, or rather Oslo, for the second biennial TransHackmeeting. This encounter emerged from various national meetings held particularly in Italy since 1997, where hackers, activists, digerati and the curious meet for three days of seminars, screenings, discussions and workshops. What distinguishes these events from other tech camps is that it is entirely self-organised by the participants – there are no facilitators, organisers or spokespeople. Internationalization was driven by the existence of contacts with hacker networks in countries like Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, and the desire to have an event where experiences and political problems could be shared beyond borders.
Humla, a hacklab and infopoint in the Hausmania complex in Oslo was the venue for this edition and I enjoyed myself immensely, although the endless daytime exacerbated my existing problem of nocturnality. Talks that i attended and liked included a detailed look at audiogalaxy, GMP3 dump, migrating medium sized organizations to free software and a breakdown of the FLOSS technical set-up behind G8.tv, recently emplyed in the coverage of events in Rostock. On the non-technical side there was a cyberpoetic film “Booting” on the development of sentimental relations between a user and her machine; a marxist take on the politics of hacking with historical comparison to the sabotage of the loom in the 19th century by Johan Soderberg (whose book will be out soon); and an account of “Jam”, a Norwegian program where Adbusters mavericks went to work subverting children’s minds, were subsequently shut down, and then awarded a major prize.
The last session returned to a discussion raised repeatedly at Fordham for several years now: China, violations of IP rights and what strategy the US is pursuing in this region. Minds had of course been focussed by the announcement of the initiation of a WTO case taken by the US just days beforehand. Victoria Espinel from the USTR insisted that this action should not be misinterpreted:
“We do not view these WTO actions as hostile…. but… a normal part of a mature trading relationship.”
At theat juncture I was actually tempted to shout from the floor:
“Are WTO actions just a frustrated cry for love?!”
But I resisted. In fairness she did elaborate on the complaints, and the substance was interesting. The US is not going after China in a general way, rather they are attacking on two seperate and discrete fronts. First they want improved enforcement, preferably the short sharp shock of criminal prosecution, and consequently they are looking for the quantity of copies required to instigate a criminal charge to be reduced. Currently the Chinese authorities must find more than a 1000 copies for criminal possibilities to come into play, otherwise it remains a civil and/or administrative matter. Secondly they want action to redress the situation where official distribution of works is held up by censorship review, while pirate versons are already available on the street. There are other issues, some of which marginal, others clouded by uncertainty as to the legal situation in China itself. The other line of attack regards market access questions. This revolves around limitations on importation, the requirement to use state-owned companies, and distribution rights.
Next up was Eric Smith, a lawyer form one of the most powerful IP firms in Washington who do a lot of work for industry. He is part of the China Copyright Alliance (MPAA, RIAA, IFPI) and simply equated piracy with a failure to provide market access while complaining about the turn-key nature of the black market trade: shops selling infringing copies are closed, only to reopen almost immediately.
Peter Wu is an IP professor in the US, but being Asiatic (?) was brought in to put forward the Chinese point of view. He outlined how the Chinese had made huge progress in compliance and argued that this case would only serve to weaken the government’s position. In addition he pointed out that IP is not the only case of inusfficient enforcement – they have difficulties with tax compliance as well. Insisting that the complaint was unfair and unwise, he noted that the US may not get the type of decision that it is expecting from the WTO and that the whole affair may rebound on them.
The next speaker was former HC Judge in Britian, Hugh Laddie, who is always good value, being both a hardcore authority and an acerbic panelist unafraid to whistle in church. Since retiring from the bench he has returned to practice and represents many clients in China. He described the complaint as ‘absurd‘, highlighting the extent of chinese efforts (speed of law reform, the training specialist IP judges etc), and then underlining the realpolitik aspects of the question. Piracy employs millions in China, and the substitution of its economic role will require time. Furthermore there are limited policing resources and IP enforcement is not considered a social priority. Sticking with this realist framework, laddie pionted out that even if the US won, the Chinese will always have the option of repsonding to a WTO decision in the same way that the US has: ignore it and pay an annual fine (ie what the US did in rsponse to the WTO case it lost to Ireland over copyright licensing: nothing!).
As mentioned elsewhere, I haven’t missed the Fordham IIP conference for years. Oriented largely towards the intellectual property industry, both in the sense of practitioners and those industries driving up the protection rachet, the value I extract from it is in inverse relation to the sympathy that I feel with the perspectives usually expressed; I learn from listening to those whose views I oppose. Unfortunately this year my participation was curtailed due to work commitments, so I missed an essential part of the gig, namely compere High Hansen’s acidic jokes at the expense of all the nabobs present. My pal Mako suggests that this is in fact the secret elixir behind the events repeated success: the bigwigs come with sado-masochistic urges, to see/hear themselves abused by Hansen, and take pleasure in the sight of others receiving the same treatment. Perhapa this is a case for Slavoj Zizek?
At this point in the IP wars everyone has their roles well-rehearsed, so there were relatively few surprises or revelations. PhRMA representatives, media industry types etc bemoaned the fact that the oodles of extra protection they’ve received in recent years are insufficient to protect the vital work they’re carrying out from the assault by nasty pirates. Yawn. We heard from the IFPI how the three step test in the Berne/WTO convention on limitations and exceptions to copyright protection is excessively promiscuous, but they would say that, wouldn’t they.
Later there was a debate about the use of compulsory licenses on pharmaceutical products in Thailand, a current hotspot for this conflict (along with Brazil and India). The Thai government has issued CLs on second generation AIDS treatments along with another drug for treating heart disease, enabling them to make treatment accessible for their citizens at much reduced prces. Opponents to this policy have learned a thing or two over the years, so there was no vulgar ‘let them pay or let them die‘ talk. Instead the adversaries were incredibly boring and emphasised supposed procedural faux-pas committed by the new (military) government rather than arguing the policy.
Jamie Love made his usual well informed contributuon, pointing out that Italy has issued compulsory licenses on several occasions in recent years without great controversey (most recently a prostrate drug in March of this year). One deduces that it is a lot more difficult to demonize, isolate and berate an EU country following a progressive policy on these subjects than is the case with a nation in south-east Asia. Industry representatives pointed out that Thai government ministers are raising their own salaries of its own ministers whilst cutting the health budget, and this is a valid point: politicians suck and line their own pockets (universal truth) but that’s no reason to pay the extortionate prices charged by the pharamaceutical industry as a global racketeering operation.
During the next session there was an update from Victoria Espinel of the United States Trade Representative, which is not an institution I like. Their most recent sin is their annual section 301 report ( a sort of grade-card on each country’s compliance with US interpretations of international copyright standards). She was all excited because they have just been allocated a whole new office dedicated entirely to IP and Innovation. This is worrying as a text-book example of institutional behaviour: the USTR has grown on the back of an aggressive expansionist IP policy, which is now being consolidated in the institutional DNA – a seperate new office can only be understood as a reward for their contribution so far, so the message is obviously continue on the same tack…
Espinel did have one positive nugget to communicate however, which is that with the recent Democrat takeover of the House Way and Means Committee there is apparently pressue on to revisit some of the terms of recent Bilateral Trade Agreements with developing countries. Panama, Peru and Colombia have all recently signed deals with the US and it seems that many democrats regard the IP tems as having been too exacting and wish to relax some elements, which is good news.
In April I’ll be in New York if anone would like to meet. Specifically I’ll be attending my favourite conferences of the year, the Fordham International Inellectual property Conference and Access 2 Knowledge 2 – opposite ends of the spectrum in intellectual property policy, and the more enriching for it.
- Pirates Languish, Rousing Occasionally to Devour Each Other
- Boas, Malinowski, Musil enter the Public Domain
- Guangzhou By Night
- A Long Night, Near the Bay
- Christmas Reading
- Who Fears To Quote the Studio System?
- European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights, RAND etc.
- On VPNs, Filesharing & Illusions
- Pirate Effect Rolls Through Nordrhein-Westfalen
- More Booty for the Pirate Party in Germany
- Library Closure of Type .nu
- ACTA Hits Turbulence (Berlin Edition)
- civil liberties
- European Court of Justice
- european directives
- european regulations
- european union
- material culture
- open video
- Pirate Bay
- Pirate Party
- social cooperation
- steal this film