ACTA Rejects the Market in Favor of Corporate Welfare

June 16, 2008

The latest issue of the Cato Institute’s Cato Unbound addresses the Future of Copyright. The lead essay written by Rasmus Fleischer of Piratbyrån, offers some excellent critical points on ACTA.

Here’s an except that is characteristic of his analysis (my emphases):

Copyright enforcement weakens general law enforcement. And it’s expensive. The proposed ACTA treaty would create international legislation turning border guards into copyright police, charged with checking laptops, iPods, and other devices for possibly infringing content, and given the authority to confiscate and destroy equipment without even requiring a complaint from a rights-holder.

It’s characteristic of the dishonesty found in copyright law that the ACTA has been promoted as a treaty aimed to save people from dangerous fake medicine, which has very little to do with issues like “ISP responsibility.” While patents, trademarks, and copyright are significantly different in many respects, copyright industry lobbyists prefer to present their draconian enforcement strategies as a matter of “intellectual property” in general.

The real dispute, once again, is not between proponents and opponents of copyright as a whole. It is between believers and non-believers. Believers in copyright keep dreaming about building a digital simulation of a 20th-century copyright economy, based on scarcity and with distinct limits between broadcasting and unit sales. I don’t believe such a stabilization will ever occur, but I fear that this vision of copyright utopia is triggering an escalation of technology regulations running out of control and ruining civil liberties. Accepting a laissez-faire attitude regarding software development and communication infrastructure can prevent such an escalation.

This argument underscores several reasons why it is completely disingenuous to equate strict IP enforcement with anything resembling a “free market.” Such an equation was an integral part of the Washington Consensus obsession with “strong property rights” and infiltrated the global trade regime with the formation of the WTO and the TRIPS agreement.

It is high time to unbundle reigning notions of property and consider whether digital, informational assets deserve comparable treatment as scarce, physical resources.

Make no mistake: ACTA is an attempt to take corporate welfare for the copyright and trademark industries to a global level. As such, it threatens the wealth, welfare, and stability of the global political economy.

Cheers to Fleischer for providing another clear and articulate statement against ACTA. The question remains, will the USTR, EC, Japan, and the other ACTA negotiating parties listen?

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