April 28, 2008
Paulo Coelho, arguably the most famous living Brazilian fiction writer, has responded to the growth of file sharing and digital reproduction of copyrighted works in an unusual way.
As described in this JB Online story (pt-BR), Coelho – whose books have been translated into several dozen languages and have sold over 10 million copies worldwide – quietly started an anonymous blog (http://piratecoelho.wordpress.com) that maintained accurate links to versions of his texts available online. Many of the online copies were unauthorized, but Coelho managed to convince his publishers that his activities would not reduce sales. As he details in the following long quote (my translation), the result was quite the opposite of what conventional culture industry thinking about ¨intellectual property¨ suggests:
(Interviewer) – Why create a site to direct internet users to locations where they could download your books for free?
(Coelho) – I believe that offering free books online stimulates sales in the ¨real¨ world. I had an experience in Russia in the late 90´s that was eye-opening in this regard. We were havng difficulties with sales there and the explanation always came back that distribution was very difficult in that part of the world. In 1996, we had only sold one thousand books. At the end of 1997, a translation of Brida appeared on some peer-2-peer sites and sales began to take off. In 1998, we sold ten thousand copies. In 1999, one hundred thousand. In 2000, the number grew to over one million copies! It wasn´t a coincidence: the Internet enabled the word of mouth to take effect and to spread; as a result, readers began to exert pressure in bookstores, which, on their own, then began to order more copies…
(h/t Marcelo D’Elia Branco)
April 27, 2008
Today’s Guardian has an interesting piece on Somali pirates (the ones that use boats and guns). Although the story gets off to a slightly melodramatic start, it eventually reveals a fascinating bit of legal reality that makes the actions of the “pirates” slightly less nefarious: turns out, they are providing an unauthorized policing service to their country:
as bizarre as it sounds, there is some truth in the pirates’ claim that they are acting as a coastguard. Under international law, a country’s ‘exclusive economic zone’ – where it has sole rights over marine and mineral resources – extends 200 nautical miles out to sea. Foreign ships are allowed to pass through these waters, but not to fish without a permit.
Yet at any one time there are up to 500 foreign-registered boats fishing in Somalia’s rich waters, according to the Seafarers’ Assistance Programme. European boats catch tuna or shrimp; vessels from the Far East catch sharks for their fins. Almost all are fishing illegally. Often, pirate attacks are not even reported to maritime authorities: the ransoms paid are regarded as legitimate fines, both by the pirates and the ship-owners.
Sure these guys use unjustifiably violent means to extract rents from their targets/victims, but it’s still important to recognize that their actions are not inherently “evil” or beyond the law. In the absence of an effective state infrastructure of legal enforcement, you might think of the “pirates” as a somewhat undesirable variety of entrepreneur. Like the author says, all of the parties involved regard the fines as legitimate.
On a related note, it never ceases to amaze me that trademark, copyright, and patent owners have managed to convince much of the world that unauthorized copying of informational goods is equivalent to material forms of piracy, such as those practiced by these folks in Somalia. The metaphor is deeply flawed for a number of reasons, but most importantly because informational or intangible goods posses fundamental differences from tangible goods.
It is one of the tragedies of recent political and industrial history that many countries have been stuck with legal systems that do not recognize this difference. As a result, private companies and government officials have begun to treat unauthorized information reproduction as just another form of theft. The beauty of informational goods is that they make sharing possible on a global scale.
Thus, they provide a great opportunity to re-think the legal, economic and moral institutions that have structured modern commerce and industry. If nobody pushes back against the vision currently promoted by many trademark, copyright, and patent-dependent firms, we’ll lose this chance.
April 27, 2008
As detailed in an interview with UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Administration, Nathan Bostrom on the UC Berkeley news website, the US’s most prestigious public university has taken another step towards de-facto privatization. Facing yet another budget crisis, the state government has decided to impose funding cuts across the UC system totalling over $100 million (Bostrom points out that it’s actually over $400 million if you compare the proposed budget approved last year with the new slash and burn budget).
The cuts reinforce a trend that has been happening for roughly the past 20-30 years: the financial de-coupling of the UC system from its dependency on public funding. This is not an angle that the UC News folks emphasized, but it emerges quite clearly from their coverage nonetheless. Check out the following quote from Bostrom when the interviewer asks him how the cuts will impact UC Berkeley in particular:
We get about 27 percent of our funds from the state; 30 years ago we got over 50 percent. That’s largely been made up by big increases in research funds, student fees, and private philanthropy, including not only gifts but grants and contracts. The good news is that that has made us somewhat less vulnerable to state cuts, in that we have more robust funding sources. The bad news is that the bulk of the state funding goes to our core mission.
Hmmm, so if the state’s not funding the core mission – which includes crucial public functions such as extending opportunities to underrepresented Californians, graduate student funding, and preserving public control over University resources – who will fund it? In the short term, the answer appears to be nobody.
Odds are, last year’s $500 million BP research deal at Berkeley was just the beginning of a new wave of mega-donations from the private sector. As I pointed out to my students in a fall course on global poverty and development, however, such “donations” come with numerous strings attached. Not only did UCB have to hand over authority over some of the hiring and funding decisions, it also surrendered many of its rights to any of the IP that will emerge from the new research center. In setting up shop on the campus of one of the country’s most progressive and respected public university campuses, BP simultaneously green-washes its image and free-rides on Berkeley’s resources, reputation, and infrastructure. While the agreement also creates opportunities for Berkeley students and faculty to participate in biofuel research, it may constrain their ability to exercise independent control over the research agenda and to explore alternatives that do not align with BP’s researchers’ interests.
Clearly, the UC system’s professors, students, and administrators must find a way to adapt to this new financial environment. It is not enough to merely bemoan the decline and fall of public support for knowledge development in the United States – our education system has been moving towards privatization for several decades now. In response to these circumstances, it is crucial that Berkeley and the other UC campuses leverage their remaining resources to generate more advantageous funding arrangements than those created by the BP deal. In particular, UC must find better ways to prevent private knowledge enclosures from infringing on vital freedoms of speech, thought and research. Handing over the IP rights for new research centers is not a good way to deal with the problem. In the context of America’s broken IP system it only promises to create patent thickets and other barriers to campus researchers’ access to knowledge. At that point, the UC regents will not only have turned their back on the system’s core mission, but will also have facilitated the erosion of the University’s ability to promote knowledge creation for the greater social good. In the long run, such a transformation does not serve anyone’s interests.
April 26, 2008
On April 17, Marcos Mazoni, the current director of Brazil’s Federal Data Processing firm (SERPRO) was appointed to head an arcane bureaucratic body: the Technical Committee for the Implementation of Free Software (CISL).
Mazoni replaces Renato Martini, the current president of Brazil’s National Technology Institute (ITI, a small office within the executive branch).
This is big news for Brazil’s Free Software movement. One of the earliest public officials to champion FOSS in the world, Mazoni has earned a widespread reputation as an effective administrator and a skilled manager of FOSS migrations.
Mazoni has an impressive record as a public servant in many of Brazil’s largest state-owned IT firms. After leading some of the earliest public sector FOSS migrations in the late 1990’s at PROCERGS (the IT agency of the state of Rio Grande do Sul), Mazoni did not take a federal position under the first administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Instead, he became president of CELEPAR, the Informatics Company of Parana state, from 2003-2006, transforming the firm into Brazil’s most celebrated and extensive case of FOSS adoption.
Mazoni received his current appointment as SERPRO president at the beginning of Lula’s second term in 2007. Since that time, Mazoni has performed a crucial leadership role among the FOSS supporters within the fragmented and over-sized Brazilian bureaucracy.
As head of the CISL, Mazoni will have oversight of the FOSS migration efforts across dozens of federal ministries, agencies, offices, and firms. He will also have an opportunity to implement new migration strategies and build consensus around the strategic, technical, and financial advantages of FOSS.
Lula’s endorsement of FOSS received world-wide attention during his first term. Since that time, many observers have publicly doubted whether there was any substance to Lula’s pro-FOSS stance. While a number of large-scale migrations did take place during the first term, things slowed down following the departure of Sergio Amadeu, the polemical professor who gained global fame for his radical denunciations of the anti-competitive tactics of proprietary-minded IT firms like Microsoft.
Mazoni’s placement as the head of SERPRO, and now as the head of the CISL signals that Lula is still serious about FOSS. With two years to go before Brazil’s next presidential election, Mazoni will almost certainly have time to make his presence felt.
April 26, 2008
The so-called Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement currently proposed by the USTR and the EC has been put on hold until at least July. According to this recent posting to the IP Watch Blog by William New, the latest Special 301 Report issued by the USTR earlier today mentions ACTA, but Assistant USTR for IP Stan McCoy confirmed that the agreement will not be completed by the upcoming G8 Summit in Japan. Since the report just came out 8 hours ago, I will try to look at it more closely in the next couple of days and see what I can find of interest.
In the meantime, I have several reactions to this news. The reality is that USTR Susan Schwab’s previous statements that she hoped ACTA would be completed by the end of 2008 seem as though they were mostly bluster to begin with. If it takes trade reps years to hammer out a bi-lateral agreement, there was never much reason to suspect that a “plurilateral” agreement would get turned around within less than 12 months. This is true even when most of the negotiating parties agree ahead of time. Negotiations between half a dozen wealthy, powerful countries are bound to be difficult, drawn-out affairs. That has been the case historically and even a secretive, shrink-wrapped proposal like ACTA is not likely to reverse the trend. Railroading a complex legal document through even the least democratic of political processes is tough work.
That said, this raises the stakes for ACTA opponents to get the attention of elected government officials in advance of this summer’s G8 summit. It’s always good to work with a deadline…
(h/t Robin Gross)
Jon posted a story at p2p.net that details how hundreds of Australian police caught downloading copyrighted DVDs at work will escape prosecution. He links to the original story, published by The Australian, with the following title:
The MPAA must love this.
Liza Porteus Viana filed a story with IP Watch yesterday that details a fascinating exchange about ACTA that took place at Fordham University’s annual Intellectual Property Law and Policy conference. Check out the whole article (that goes into detail about some other aspects of the USTR’s National Trade Estimates) or settle for the following very-long-quote:
USTR also is touting the multinational Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) as a way to fill in enforcement gaps with the TRIPS agreement and other treaties. The language of ACTA, which was announced last fall (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 24 October 2007), has not yet been released to the public – which has many consumer groups up in arms. USTR put a notice in the Federal Register soliciting comment on the agreement.
“Until you have economies of the world effectively cooperating together, it’s difficult to be as effective as law enforcement would like to be,” Victoria Espinel, who served as the first assistant US Trade Representative for Intellectual Property and Innovation, said last week during an intellectual property law conference at Fordham University in New York City. “It is very much the hope” of USTR and other participating countries “that more and more countries will join,” she added.
Eddan Katz, international affairs director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the US “shouldn’t rush on this one.”
“In terms of combating piracy, this is the wrong instrument,” Katz said, arguing that it is ill-designed in terms of maintaining the integrity of the law and improperly puts enforcement responsibility in the hands of customs officials at airports.
Jamie Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International in Washington, D.C., argued that the US government is not being forthcoming enough on what exactly ACTA will do, since it has been more than five months since ACTA was announced and the text still has not been distributed publicly. “I think that’s also not helpful to the overall effort – the transparency issue,” Love said.
Steven Tepp, a policy planning adviser to the US Copyright Office who has been involved in some of the ACTA discussions going on at USTR, said he has been told that the document is subject to “special handling,” as it contains material dealing with other governments. “To the best of my knowledge, that document has not been given to anyone outside the US government,” he said, countering Love’s statement that some drafts have been circulated to “certain lobbying groups.”
A testy exchange erupted when Love asked Tepp – as a representative of the US government privy to some ACTA discussions – if he could meet with him to discuss the measure. Tepp agreed, until Love asked if he could bring other consumer groups and, perhaps, some media with him, so the broader public would know what’s going on.
“Jamie, please don’t manipulate it – you asked me for a meeting,” Tepp said. “I’m very happy to meet with you.”
Countered Love: “What I’m asking for, both from USTR and the Copyright Office, is to open up the process, have a meeting that is truly public.”
Katz then piped in, asking Tepp: “How big is your office? Can other people come? …There are multiple points of view.”
There’s a lot of amazing stuff to unpack here. First of all, Tepp’s assertion that ACTA text has not been distributed to anyone outside the U.S. government seems highly improbable. Consider the following: when you line up the text of the USTR’s ACTA Fact Sheet and the Australian DFAT’s discussion paper and the Canadian government’s Discussion Paper and the European Commission’s Fact Sheet the four documents practically match verbatim. I know these governments talk a lot, but I strongly doubt that such a consistent use of language, examples, and layout is a mistake. Clearly there are texts circulating. It’s only a question of which texts and how much information is being withheld from public scrutiny.
Secondly, the idea that industry lobby groups are not up to their elbows in this process is also blatantly absurd. Tepper emphasized that industry lobby groups do not have access to the latest drafts of the agreement. That may or may not be so. The truth of the matter is that his distinction is a red herring. Take a look at some of the most recent statements about ACTA made by members of the International Trademark Association (INTA) and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC):
“Expectations for ACTA are high. This proposed agreement has the potential to deliver significant improvements in establishing stronger international guidelines and standards, and providing governments with clear directives for action,” said INTA Executive Director, Alan C. Drewsen
“The governments that so far have agreed to engage in negotiating the new agreement have made a commitment to complete the process and we urge them to get started without further delay,” said Bob Wright, Co-Chairman of the ICC’s Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP) initiative and Vice Chairman and Executive Officer, General Electric. “We recognize the work involved in completing an agreement of this magnitude, and we stand ready to work with the governments involved to move the agreement forward.”
I picked out these quotes from the an April article mentioning ACTA published by the AGIP News Service. What the statements reveal are several business leaders practically tripping over themselves to line up in support of this potential agreement. And the USTR wants us to believe that they only talked about the weather with these guys in their earlier meetings?
The background section of the Australian DFAT’s discussion paper suggests an alternative history: it appears that several industry lobby groups funded events like the 2004 Global Congress to Combat Counterfeiting in order to bring the government trade representatives’ attention to these issues. The question of whether the lobbyists have access to the latest round of emails floating around in the USTR’s office is academic and Tepper probably knows it. The point is that organiations like INTA, the ICC, and BASCAP have participated in ACTA from day one. To suggest otherwise is misleading.