Secret copyright treaty debated in DC: must-see video

The drive to ram through the secret Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is ramping up, with the next meeting set for the end of this month in Mexico. ACTA is an unprecedented copyright treaty (unprecedented in that it reaches farther than previous copyright treaties, and that it is being negotiated behind closed doors, without any public input or oversight) that will force copyright policing duties on Internet companies (vastly increasing the cost of hosting "user-generated content"); create new penalties for infringement (including Draconian penalties such as disconnection from the Internet on accusations of infringement); and require countries to search hard-drives, personal media players, and other personal data at their borders.

Last month, Google's DC office hosted a public debate on ACTA, with Steven J. Metalitz, a lawyer and lobbyist representing the International Intellectual Property Alliance; Jamie Love, an activist with Knowledge Ecology International; Jonathan Band, a lawyer representing a coalition of library groups and a variety of tech and Internet companies and Ryan Clough from Silicon Valley Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren's office; moderated by Washington Post consumer technology columnist Rob Pegoraro.

The video runs to 90 minutes. I don't get a lot of 90-minute chunks of time in my life, but I made time for this. It was one of the most spirited -- even heated -- debates I've heard on the subject, and it got into substantive questions of law, jurisdiction, economics and ethics. It was especially interesting to hear Metalitz, the main mouthpiece for the private corporate interests behind this proposal, attempt to defend both the proposal and the secrecy behind it.

Two recurring points that Metalitz raised were that the secrecy in the treaty was a requirement of foreign negotiating partners, and the US's hands were tied; and that the treaty wouldn't require any of the "advanced" nations to change their law (he repeated the oft-heard unfounded slur that Canada is a rogue nation when it comes to copyright law).

Both of these points are simply wrong. The country demanding that ACTA be kept secret is the good old US of A, whose strategy for this is being driven by former entertainment industry lawyers who have found new homes as senior officials in the Obama government (the Democrats are terrible on copyright, sadly -- we can thank Bill Clinton for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act). These lawyers are Metalitz's old pals, his colleagues in the decades he's spent winning special privileges and public subsidy for his rich clients.

Even more ridiculous is the claim that ACTA won't require any changes to law (if that was true, why bother with it?). As the EU's Commissioner-designate for the Internal Market stated, ACTA will trump the democratic law made by elected governments, requiring changes that are created in smoke-filled rooms that only corporate bigwigs get access to.

ACTA is a profoundly undemocratic undertaking, as is amply demonstrated in the debate in this video. K-street lobbyists, corporate execs, and other movers and shakers know everything that's going on in the ACTA negotiations, but the public is frozen out of the debate. And as Jamie Love points out, public access to other copyright negotiations -- such as those at WIPO -- have fundamentally changed their directions, because the public doesn't want expensive gags and handcuffs put on the Internet in order to bolster the entertainment industry's profits.

Watch this video. It may be the most productive 90 minutes you spend today.

Google D.C. Talk: ACTA - The Global Treaty That Could Reshape The Internet (via Michael Geist)


  1. “Watch this video. It may be the most productive 90 minutes you spend today.”

    Spend 90 minutes writing a letter to your elected representatives on the subject. Then send the letter to them.

    In this day of polls and petitions on the internet, we’ve forgotten our right to write, and the power that our letters wield. I wrote to my representatives on an important issue, and received both phonecalls AND action(!) on the issue.

    Don’t waste your time in the comments section here or anywhere else on the web. Take the direct, legal action available to you.

    1. What oasisob1 said. Your mail does carry weight; the volume of mail is precisely how politicians decide what the public actually cares about.

      Write in on this. Be firm, and demand that your copyright law is made by your representatives, not your lobbyists.

      (Currently writing to my MP on much the same lines. But that doesn’t help in the US; you Americans are going to have to do that part.)

  2. oasisob1 has a point.

    I already KNOW that the ACTA negotiations are entirely controlled by the entertainment industry – it’s been true of EVERY government copyright/IP regulatory process in the last 20 years. I’m not sure 90 minutes of video further proving that is going to do in a positive sense?

    I see no options other than opting-out of popular culture when it is served through restrictions in my fair use rights – I spend my money on video games, dish TV, netflix, DVDs, CDs, DRM free MP3 and streaming audio. I will not purchase itunes, blue-ray or any current ebooks.

  3. Whenever I see these draconian copyright laws, and that many of our so-called representatives are working for the copyright owners I am reminded of a classic SF story

    I will watch the video, but as I have said before in this forum and others, I support copyright laws that protect artists. A fair system of copyright protects content creators and allows them to be fairly compensated for their hard work. In the link below, you can read my argument with someone on reddit who believes wholeheartedly in free content, anyone should be able to download anything anytime, etc, and after a long debate about it he admits that this is due to the fact that “it’s not illegal in my country, so it’s not wrong.”

    1. A “fair system of copyright” shouldn’t completely ruin the life of someone who shares two dozen songs with no profit motive. Do we really need *worse* punishments than under our current system?

    2. But that’s hardly what this is about. This is not about “no copyright” vs. “reasonable copyright”. This is about possibly radically changing the balance between copyright stakeholders. Creators (and this isn’t just about music, the issue is FAR greater than that) take advantage of that balance all the time, through resampling, re-interpretations, adaptations, etc. Much of Disney’s works are based on old stories, out of copyright, that they reinterpreted.

      And to be clear, copyright isn’t just for the creators, it’s to strike a balance between giving the creators and incentive and making works available for the public to use. More recently I suspect it’s also about giving the public the ability to find more innovated uses of copy-written material that wasn’t anticipated even a few years ago. (Which potentially leads to both more creators and more availability.)

      1. It’s also worth noting that this is also not just about copyright, it’s about trademark, and possibly even patents, depending upon how negotiations go. We don’t know how far-reaching the provisions are (despite some interesting leaks our of the EU) simply because the whole damn thing is secret. The treaty could be far worse for independent artists than the status quo, and no one would be able to tell you that.

  4. Regarding the excellent advice others have given on writing representatives:

    Senators and representatives get LOTS of mail, but a depressingly small proportion of that is articulate and to-the-point. If you are both, and can distinguish yourself from the mass of half-baked angry rants and auto-generated astroturf, your issue CAN get onto the member’s radar.

    Note, though, that paper mail while carrying some weight (obviously, it takes more time and therefore, there’s less of it than email), it takes an extraordinarily long time to get to a member’s attention, because post-anthrax, the letters have to get irradiated first. So a concise, well-directed phone call can work, too. Keep in mind that if you are cold-calling, you will likely be talking to an intern or lower-level staffer. That is not a defeat. They will record the overall gist of your message and pass it on. Keep in mind, you’re not going to get to debate your points to win someone over, you’re basically “voting” in an unscientific poll. State your position, one or two good supporting arguments for it, and be clear and polite. These poor folks have to deal with a lot of yelling from crazies.

    Faxes and email are also good, and always faster than mail.

    There are two ways to figure our who to target with your message: leadership and your representative.

    Again, if you’re cold-calling, or if you’re contacting them because you have strong feelings on an issue (but aren’t necessarily directly tied to that issue somehow), your own senators and representative are the best bet. Non-constituents don’t matter so much–after all, their job is to represent their state/district, so a PA senator is going to weigh the opinion of a Pittsburgher more than that of a New Yorker.

    Otherwise, if it’s a specific issue you’re interested in, figure out which committees have jurisdiction over the issue (copyright is Judiciary in both House and Senate, trade (since ACTA is being framed as a trade agreement) is in the Subcommittee on Trade within Ways and Means in the House, and in the Subcommittee on International Trade in the Finance Committee in the Senate). If your Senator or Representative is on those subcommittees or committees, you’ve got extra firepower. If not, you might take a stab at contacting the committee or subcommittee leadership–the Chair and Ranking [minority party] Members of the committee.

    Ah crap, hope this was interesting/useful enough to justify its length.

  5. If they put this amount of effort into making the right laws they could solve the problem for everyone. And the odd thing is, they are, against their intention, stumbling in partly the right direction anyway.

    1. ISPs add a small levy to all subscriptions
    2. copyright is abolished on the internet — everything is freely usable
    3. usage and preference of internet content is surveyed with various statistical measures
    4. producers compete for popularity
    5. the ISP subscription levy is distributed to producers according to the measures

    That basic system works for televised football for the UK Premier League. With appropriate dedication it can work for the internet. It is not like flying to Mars, it is eminently doable.

    Copyright is merely one possible economic system. When circumstances render it impractical or troublesome, the intelligent thing to do is replace it with something better.

  6. Considering that the issue of transparency is so important to those of us not “in the loop”, I need to ask this: WHY was a portion of the discussion removed from this video at 1:04:34? What was discussed in that room at that point that needed to be kept from the rest of us?

    1. Ian,

      I happened to be just a few seconds from 1:04:34 when I read your comment. I’d love to know what was said there, it sounded like an interesting point (Goods in Transit). Perhaps it was something that violated the NDAs, that specifically didn’t appear in the European memo.

    2. Is it possible that the recording technology used for this forum filled up a storage card at that point and the person operating the camera had to insert a new storage card?

  7. It’s going to get to the point where I could kill someone and get off with a 1 year sentence and a minor fine, but if I downloaded a song without paying for it, I would be put to death because the poor media companies are losing money.

    If any of the money went to the people who actually create the songs, then I MIGHT be a little more supportive of efforts to stop piracy. But it seems like most of the money goes to the parasites that feed off of the artists.

  8. The point has been raised that ACTA will result in small surcharges from ISP’s due to their new roles.

    I believe ISP’s will have to charge a large amount to purchase and monitor software to detect copyrighted materials, not to mention the responsibilities associated with notification of copyright violations and black listing 3 time offenders.

    Taking this to it’s conclusion, ISP’s tasked with eliminating violations can use 1 of 2 approaches: monitor every type of connection for violations or restrict all but the most basic connection types and monitor those. This would result in most ports being blocked and services like BitTorrent being effectively banned.

    Perhaps a lot less may happen but doesn’t ACTA open the door to this kind of censorship?

  9. Hey BoingBoing, make use of the website! If you’re going to post videos that are 90 minutes long, it’d be worth everyone’s time to use their service to get the video transcribed. You’ll then be able to quote exact moments within the video and link directly to that point in the recording. It costs $0.03 per minute, and it’ll make your links a lot more interesting.

    1. You’ll then be able to quote exact moments within the video and link directly to that point in the recording.

      You can link to specific in YouTube videos. For free.

        1. Perhaps it’s not boingboing’s responsibility to use a different website to create transcripts of someone else’s video? Particularly with a fee involved?

        2. An even better point would be that deaf people can use it. I suspect the rise of video content is leaving them (and blind people) increasingly marginalized, so it’s good services like this exist. But it’s true that BoingBoing shouldn’t be expected to shell out for it in order to point out someone else’s content.

  10. “Watch this video. It may be the most productive 90 minutes you spend today. ”

    Nah. I know what is needed to know about ACTA already. I’ll spend the next 90 minutes being intensely productive at unabashed online piracy instead.

  11. One of the main arguments of the RIAA goons: “we are big, employ a lot of people we get economic growth, so you have to grant us that, because this piracy is really bad for us and so it is bad for you, too.”

    Neither being big, employing people nor getting vast economic growth is a valid reason to legitimate such drastic measures. We see the results of AIG and Goldman-Sachs, who were big and great employers, too – they only cost the taxpayers a lot of bucks. Moreso, if really everyone violates copyright, it may be not a real right in the first place, but rather a wrong.

    Greetings, LX

  12. Cory,

    I’m going to admit some ignorance here so go easy on me.

    I’m asking for a BASIC tutorial on the intellectual property/copyright issue to get me up to speed so I can stop spacing out whenever these articles are posted. I’m usually pretty well informed on a lot of issues so, if I’m spacing out when this comes up, I’m pretty sure others are, too.

    To give you a baseline, here’s my current understanding.

    1. Most people, except for the most devoted of the voluntaryists, accept a proper role of the government as enforcing contracts.

    2. When a creative person creates some (oh, what do they call it?) intellectual property, they are free to release it with the understanding (contract?) that the government will enforce a general contract called copyright. They are also free to release it under an understanding (contract?) that imposes greater or lesser restrictions than what is provided by copyright.

    3. Whatever government gets involved in will become increasingly influenced by large interests who seek to use the government’s power to give them a competitive advantage.

    There are some holes in the understanding I’ve communicated here. I can see that #3 undermines #1, but I don’t see an alternative. I’m inviting you to identify the rest of the holes and what is missing that will get me up to speed on the issues you’re posting about. I’m not even sure what questions I’m supposed to be asking to get up to speed on this topic.


  13. @DP

    The problem is that copyright is a poor system for the public overall: both intrinsically, and particularly in the circumstances of the internet.

    Copying and sharing cultural items is good, and producing cultural items is good. Copyright encourages production — good, but only by restricting sharing — bad. It is intrinsically a self-frustrating system.

    Copyright is also a monopoly, which is economically inefficient and harmful. It funds production by keeping prices of copies high. But with the internet the true cost of copying is practically zero, so the economic/public badness has become unusually large.

    There certainly could be a role for government in a system for cultural production. But copyright is clearly a bad, broken choice, and a better one — like Dean Baker’s voucher one, or my suggestion earlier — should now be set up to replace it.

  14. This Google sponsored video gives the impression that Google wants and expects transparancy with the ACTA negotiations. This is funny because Google itself is one of the most secretive oraganisations in the USA. Maybe the argument would be a little stronger if Google themselves were open and transparent in the way they do business !!

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