Thursday, February 11, 2010

Letter to the US Trade Representative

From this Ars Technica article, the US Trade Representative, the body in charge of negotiating the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), has a section open for comments about the treaty. Let them know that you favor an open Internet and balanced copyright laws. I've copied my comment to them (which was too long to fit in the form, blah) here.

Letter to the USTR

I am very concerned with not only what leaked content I have been able to find about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), but also with the lack of public involvement and visibility of this far-reaching and dangerous piece of legislation. For something that has a profound potential to damage the way the Internet, free speech, and the development of culture work, it is unacceptable that the only interested parties who have been allowed into the negotiations are those with the greatest interest in restricting new outgrowths of culture that the Internet can provide.

The companies that make up the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and others currently have far too large of a sway over the decisions involved in the treaty, and represent a very lopsided view of copyright and patent laws. Despite their widely-publicized claims of the massive damages caused by piracy, there is little actual evidence in support of, and a great deal of evidence against their conclusions. The movie industry, especially, has been posting record profits, so the claim that innovation and creativity will be destroyed by Internet-based piracy is clearly false.

These industries' support of stricter copyright and patent laws is little more than an attempt to persuade the government, Internet service providers, or website operators to foot the bill to support their own business model. After having realized that directly suing their own customers was prohibitively expensive and generated a huge amount of bad will, these companies decided that they could pass the unpopular job of attacking music and movie consumers to someone else.

It is not the US government's job to support the business model of these few companies. The small, if any, increase in economic activity that might result from stricter laws would not nearly be worth the chilling effects on cultural expression, free speech, and innovation. Many of the companies most heavily involved in the ACTA negotiations are products of an industrial age in which reproducing and transporting information is a difficult task and requires a large, organized infrastructure in order to be feasible. With an increasing number of homes now having high-speed Internet access, this difficult problem of transporting information no longer exists. As such, a large component of the reason for these companies to exist has disappeared as well, leading to an existential crisis for them. These companies are the candle makers and buggy-whip manufacturers of the 21st century, and rather than allowing them to continue to seek economic rent from the former audience turned participants in culture who no longer need them. Even if the claimed "worst case" does come to pass, and these large media companies do fold under the weight of Internet piracy, they will not be missed, as their once-useful purpose has been superseded.

It is extremely important for the future of Democracy, freedom of speech and expression, and the continued development of our culture that the negotiations be opened to the public, the full and current version of ACTA be made available, and those companies whose interests run counter to those of the country at large not be given undue influence over one of the most important treaties of our time.