Tech companies to Senate Finance Committee chair Wyden: no Fast Track for TPP!

More than 25 tech companies -- including Happy Mutants, LLC, Boing Boing's parent company -- have signed onto a letter asking Senator Ron Wyden (chairman of the Senate Finance Committee) to oppose "Fast Track" for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a secretly negotiated trade agreement that allows for big corporations to trump national law, suing governments that pass regulations that limit their profits; it contains a notoriously harsh chapter on Internet regulation that will allow entertainment companies unprecedented power to surveil, censor, and control the Internet.

The US Trade Representative and the Obama administration have demanded that Congress give "Fast Track" status to the TPP, meaning that they would not be allowed to debate the individual clauses of the bill, and would only be able to vote it up or down. The treaty is likely to have lots of sweeteners that will make it hard for key lawmakers to reject it entirely, a manipulative maneuver that, combined with Fast Track, means that the treaty has a substantial chance of passing, even though it means Congress will be surrendering its power to make laws that impact on massive corporations.

Other signatories to the letter include Reddit, Techdirt, Imgur, Duckduckgo, Ifixit, Cheezburger, Automattic (WordPress), and many others. Read the rest

Obama whirls the copyright lobbyist/government official revolving door

The Obama administration has a new negotiator in its effort to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secretly negotiated treaty that includes broad powers to censor and surveil the Internet: Robert Holleyman, one of the chief SOPA lobbyists. Holleyman just retired from serving as head of the Business Software Alliance. His successor is Victoria Espinel, who just quit the Obama administration, where she served as "IP Czar." Obama promised to shut down the revolving door between lobbyists and government, but it's spinning quicker than ever. Read the rest

US Trade Rep can't figure out if Trans-Pacific Partnership will protect the environment

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a secretly negotiated trade agreement let by the USA. Though the text is secret, enough drafts have leaked to make it clear that one of its goals is to ensure that foreign corporations can sue governments over laws that impact their profits, especially when it comes to the environment.

The US Trade Representative and the Obama administration have asked Congress to "fast track" the treaty, passing it without any debate or revisions. Naturally, Congress wants to know what the treaty is likely to say before they agree to this.

So in a hearing on Jan 28, Rep Mark Pocan (D-WI) asked Michael Froman -- the US Trade Rep running the TPP show -- about the environmental standards in TPP. Froman listed four areas in TPP that were "absolutely non-negotiable from a US standpoint," including "tough new environmental standards."

When the meeting ended, Pocan asked "So does that mean that if we give you fast track, you won't send us a deal that doesn't have that stuff in it?' At which point, we learned that the US Trade Rep uses a highly specialized meaning for the phrase "absolutely non-negotiable," meaning "totally up for grabs," because he immediately said, "I didn't say that." Read the rest

Choosing a Secure Password

As insecure as passwords generally are, they're not going away anytime soon. Every year you have more and more passwords to deal with, and every year they get easier and easier to break. Bruce Schneier says you need a strategy.

Obama's top Trans-Pacific Partnership officials were given millions by banks before taking the job

The top Obama administration officials working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership came to government from investment banks who will benefit immensely from its provisions, which severely curtail countries' ability to pass laws regulating banks and other corporations. These top advisors, who came from Bank of America and Citigroup, were given multimillion-dollar exit bonuses when they left their employers for government. For example, the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, was handed $4M from Citigroup as a goodbye gift on his way into his new job.

This is standard operating procedure for America's financial industry, where the largest players all have contracts guaranteeing millions to employees who leave the firm for government jobs. Read the rest

Comic book explains why the Transpacific Partnership serves no one but the ultra-rich

In 2012 I reviewed Economix, a terrific cartoon history of economics by Michael Goodwin and illustrated by Dan E. Burr. (After reading it, I bought a few copies of the book to give as gifts.)

Today, Michael emailed to let me know that he and Dan have posted an excellent and free 27-page online comic called The Transpacific Partnership and "Free Trade," which describes how the negotiated-in-secret treaty is a "global coup that's disabling our democracies and replacing them with multinationals and Wall Street," and is making the US "police state more extensive, more restrictive, and global." Read the rest

Self-published ebooks: the surprising data from Amazon

Hugh Howey, author of the bestselling, indie-original science fiction series Wool, has published an eye-popping, and important data-rich report on independent author earnings from ebooks sold on Amazon. Howey makes a good case that the "average" author earns more from a self published book than she would through one of the Big Five publishers, and, what's more, that this holds true for all sorts of outliers (the richest indie authors outperform the richest Big Five authors; less-prolific indies do better than less-prolific traditionals, etc).

Howey's report includes a lot of raw data and makes a lot of very important points. It certainly is an aid to authors wondering whether to do business with major publishers or go it alone. I read it with great interest.

I think that there are a couple of important points that Howey skirts, if not eliding them altogether. The most important of these is that all the authors Howey studies live and die by the largesse of one company: Amazon. This is the same company whose audiobook division, Audible, requires authors to lock their products to its store with non-optional DRM, and which has no real competitors in its space. So it is neither an angel by nature, nor is it subject to strong competitive pressures that would cause it to treat authors well when its own self-interest would cause it to treat them badly. As bad as it is to have a publishing world with only five major publishers in it -- a monoposony in which a tiny handful of companies converge on terms and practices that are ultimately more to their benefit than those of authors, it's even worse to have a world in which a single company controls the entire market. Read the rest

Save the Internet: Stop Fast Track

Evan from Fight for the Future writes, "Want to help save democracy? The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a super-secretive trade agreement that threatens everything you care about. It's been negotiated behind closed doors with ample input from over 600 corporate lobbyists -- but no access for journalists or the public. Sound bad? It gets worse. The corporate interest groups pushing for the TPP are the same folks that brought us SOPA, ACTA, and NAFTA." Read the rest

Leaked: environmental chapter of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty

Most of our coverage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has focused on its Internet-regulating provisions. But the treaty -- which has been negotiated in unprecedented secrecy, with heavy-handed shoves from the US Trade Representative -- also has disturbing implications for the environment. Today, Wikileaks published a leaked consolidated draft of TPP's environment chapter, which sets out the ways in which corporations will be able to prevent countries from passing environmental laws that interfere with profit making. Read the rest

Trans-Pacific Partnership: how the US Trade Rep is hoping to gut Congress with absurd lies

The US Trade Representative is pushing Congress hard for "Trade Promotion Authority," which would give the President's representatives the right to sign treaties like the Trans-Pacific Partnership without giving Congress any chance to oversee and debate the laws that America is promising to pass. With "Trade Promotion Authority" (also called "fast track"), Congress's only role in treaties would be to say "yes" or "no" to whatever the US Trade Rep negotiated -- so if the USTR papered over a bunch of sweetheart deals for political cronies with a single provision that politicians can't afford to say no to, that'll be that.

Not coincidentally, the TPP is one long sweetheart deal with a couple of political sweeteners that no Congresscritter can afford to kill.

The USTR's push for Trade Promotion Authority contains some of the stupidest, easy-to-debunk lies I've ever read. Either the Obama Administration figures that Congress is thicker than pigshit, or the USTR drafted this to give tame Congresscritters cover for selling out the people they represent to the corporations that fund their campaigns.

Techdirt's Mike Masnick has undertaken the unpleasant chore of documenting and rebutting the Trade Rep's falsehoods point-by-point. Read the rest

Public Domain Day 2014: bad times ahead, urgent action needed

It's Public Domain day again -- the day when music, books and movies enter the public domain in countries where copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years (hint: not the USA).

But as John Mark Ockerbloom points out, the list of life+50 countries keeps getting shorter, as more and more countries are arm-twisted into extending their copyright terms by the US Trade Representative. And increasingly, countries are passing regressive copyright laws that take works out of the public domain and put them back into copyright -- an insane policy that ends up criminalizing new art that incorporates the old, and that provides no new incentive to create (give Elvis or the Beatles 50 more years of copyright if you like, they're still not going to record any more music).

It's not all bad news: between the Hathi Trust lawsuit (which held it legal to scan old, in-copyright books under some circumstances) and the growth of Creative Commons licenses.

There's urgent work to be done. We need to fight copyright term extension, to expand fair use and fair dealing, increase access to orphan works, and discredit and destroy the new practice of making global copyright law through secretive treaty negotiations like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, and the Open Knowledge Foundation are all working to bring copyright into line with the modern world, and to stop its from being used for censorship and surveillance. Read the rest

Secretive TPP treaty could kill creator's right to get copyrights back from studios, labels and publishers

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has new analysis of the leaked Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty, a secretive trade deal being hammered out without any public oversight, and set to be fast-tracked through the US Congress without substantial debate. EFF's piece focuses on the treaty's provisions that affect "termination rights," an obscure but important part of copyright law that allows creators to take their assigned copyrights back from the companies who bought them after 35 years. The studios, labels and publishers hate this, as it allows creators who scored big hits early in their careers when they were getting paid peanuts for their work to take those successful works back and re-sell them at a more appropriate price. EFF's view is that the TPP draft endangers Termination Rights.

It's more proof that just because many creators are on the side of the big entertainment companies, it doesn't follow that the companies are on the side of their creators. Any creator who endorses TPP, thinking that expansions to copyright will always benefit them, had better look again: TPP is a way of taking away one of the most valuable rights that creators have and handing it over to Big Content to make billions off of. Read the rest

Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership sucks: short, funny animation

Spocko sez, "Here's a short animated video explaining why the Trans-Pacific Partnership sucks. starring my imitation of Ross Perot! Remember, Ross knew all about the 'Giant sucking sound from the South' that became NAFTA. I pulled concepts from both the left and the right to inform this video." Read the rest

75% of American silent feature films lost

A September report from the Library of Congress's National Film Preservation Board called The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912–1929 [PDF] paints a dismal picture of the archival record of silent movies. In all, "14% of the 10,919 silent films released by major studios exist in their original 35mm or other format," although some of the missing items are extant in lesser transfers and foreign editions. But in all, "we have lost 75% of the creative record from the era that brought American movies to the pinnacle of world cinematic achievement in the 20th century."

It's a sobering reminder of the fragility of even relatively recent media, and the need for preservation. An appreciable slice of the missing archival materials are still in copyright, with attending difficulties in clearing them for the purpose of striking and circulating new prints. As we close in on 2018, the date at which materials from 1928 onward will begin entering the public domain again, this is an important reminder of what can happen if we let the profitability of a tiny slice of commercially viable ancient materials trump the preservation of the vast bulk of cultural materials. Read the rest

Democratic lawmakers share a squalorous house in DC

A group of top Democratic lawmakers live in a squalorous group house in DC. The house was once the family home of Rep. George Miller (D-CA), but he relocated back to his California district with his wife and family. Now, three decades later, Illinois senator Dick Durbin shares the house with New York senator Chuck Schumer and congressman Miller, amid dusty, filthy and disused furnishings dating back to the 1980s. The lawmakers only spend three nights a week at the house, and come and go at odd hours between meetings, fundraisers, and appearances. They use the Congressional gyms and other facilities for the majority of their needs, and boast about the holes in the stovetop and the dumpster-dived furniture, as well as Durbin's comfort-food of choice: raisin bran. Read the rest

Rob Ford police document: allegations of heroin use and more

Another tranche of police documents on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been released [474 page (!) PDF]. Despite the mayor's insistence that all of his secrets were now out in the open and he had nothing more to hide, the new materials contain several bombshells, including allegations of heroin use, bribing crooks with marijuana, and lying about the infamous crack video. Read the rest

NSA's talking points for friends and family -- rebutted

Firedoglake obtained a copy of a two-page memo [PDF] of talking points for family and friends that the NSA sent to employees on November 22, so that spooks could rebut skeptical relatives around the Thanksgiving table. It's full of misleading statistics and outright falsehoods. Thankfully, Firedoglake's Kevin Gosztola took the time to comprehensively rebut every point in the document, with extensive links to primary sources, Congressional testimony, and other significant facts. Read the rest

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