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The day the Net will change forever

10 November 2009

The rules and regulations that affect our use of the internet today are really little different to those which existed a decade or two ago.

A few governments have made attempts to introduce legislation that takes the power of the internet into account (the USA's DMCA is an example of this) but by and large, we're still using 20th century laws to control what has become a very 21st century medium.

As a result of this, there has been intense lobbying from groups who see their own business models crumbling in the face of an unfettered freedom to communicate and copy.

Well hold on to your hats people, that's all about to change - and not in a good way.

The ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) being thrashed out behind closed doors my governments around the world, looks to be shaping up as an uber-copyright treaty that will result in huge changes to your rights as they apply to the internet and new technology.

Things we currently take for granted may soon become offenses that could earn stiff fines or imprisonment.

And it's all largely driven by the fact that the blacksmiths of the 20th century don't want to stop making horseshoes -- even though the consumer has already become very used to driving vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine.

Doesn't it strike you as rather odd that, in an open and democratic nation where the drafting and passing of legislation ought to be an open and transparent process, our politicians have kept their ACTA talks secret?

If we have nothing to fear -- why is there anything to hide?

Surely, if these are laws that are designed to be fair and reasonable, they ought to go through the normal legislative process with consultation and input from the public -- not devised behind closed doors and then presented as a fait au compli.

Perhaps the nasty surprise government got when it attempted to support Labour's three-strikes (S92) amendment to our existing copyright laws caused them to consider the benefits of keeping such draconian moves "under wraps" until it's too late for the public to rebel?

I love the name of this agreement too... "Anti-Counterfeiting"

If its goal was to protect us from being duped by those who would illegally copy stuff and sell it to us as "the real thing" then that'd be fine -- but as it turns out, this agreement is more about stopping individuals from copying movies, music, etc without permission.

That is not counterfeiting -- that is simply unlawful copying.

Nobody with a collection of burnt CDs and DVDs they've ripped themselves is a counterfeiter unless they try to flog them as genuine articles -- a bit hard to do when the label is either hand-written with a felt-tipped pen or printed on a printable CD/DVD-R.

What irks me the most about this is not that politicians are bowing to the pressure from rich and powerful industries, it's the dishonest and secretive way they're going about it.

Here in NZ I thought we'd already had enough of dishonest, deceptive politicians. Surely we cant countenance this kind of legislation and the way it's being cooked up in a closed kitchen -- with who knows what kind of pressure from individuals and industries with vested interests.

So what can we expect when the ACTA is finally foisted upon us?

Well I have no doubt that the "three strikes" law will return.

This time, the government will say "It's not our fault. We can't remove it because this is an international trade agreement and to opt-out would place us at a huge disadvantage with our trading partners".

What they'll really be saying is "We're still hoping like hell that we'll be able to score an FTA with the USA because we're a bunch of retards who refuse to learn."

Hasn't Key seen the way Obama is now yielding to pressure from within his own country to re-erect trade barriers to imports?

There can be little doubt that the ACTA is being driven by the US government -- which in turn is subject to huge lobbying from organisations like the RIAA and MPAA.

Although it's true that we're living in a world that has become an awful lot smaller since the invention of the internet, I still don't think it's a wise thing to allow other countries to dictate NZ's laws, even if it's through the back-door by way of vehicles like the ACTA.

International Copyright agreements, such as the Berne Convention, have served us well for over 100 years -- but at least they were honest about their intention.

Let me repeat what I said before: personal copying is *NOT* counterfeiting.

I fear that the ACTA, if it continues to be a "top secret" covert copyright agreement forged behind closed doors under the disguise of an anti-counterfeiting agreement will do as much to hog-tie the pace of technological advance as passing a law to make motor-vehicles illegal might have done at the turn of the century.

Unauthorised copying of movies, music (and soon) books has become a fact of life -- just like the car has.

The problem faced by the studios is the same as that faced by the blacksmiths -- adapt or die.

Legislation aimed at stopping otherwise law-abiding folks from doing something that they now consider a right will ultimately fail.

We've made robbery, rape and murder illegal -- but these crimes take place every day.

What we need to do is tell intellectual property owners to go away, have a cup of tea and come up with a better way to turn their assets into money.

In the case of music, books and movies -- we've already seen how that can be done by removing the concept of "ownership" and offering access to huge libraries of the material for a regular weekly monthly or annual fee. If consumers can access anything they want for a flat fee -- the whole issue of unlawful copying will simply disappear.

Which would you choose?

To be bludgeoned into submission by draconian laws created behind closed doors?

Or to willingly sign up for access to all the world's music, movies and literature for a regular monthly fee?

Only a cretin locked in secret talks could not see the answer to this puzzle.

The irony is that this "Anti Counterfeiting" agreement is itself a countefeit.

Although it purports to deal to counterfeiters, its true goal is to clamp down on the kind of personal unlawful copying that is now so commonplace as to be unstoppable.

One thing's for sure -- if/when the ACTA is passed into law, that's the day the internet will be changed forever.

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