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Posted on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Dave!I could write for pages about the sad decline of journalism world-wide, but there seems to be little point in it. From television anchors injecting their personal feelings into the story... to newspaper writers drawing conclusions for the reader... to networks claiming impartiality while ramming their agenda down your throat... to internet "news" sites not bothering to check their "facts"... it's all such a horrendous mess that finding out what's really going on in the world today is all but impossible unless you are there to witness events in person.

I suppose it was inevitable, because people just don't seem to care about the truth anymore.

But even worse than all the things that we get wrong when it comes to journalism, at least the issues that the media decides to cover are getting exposure. What about important issues that get buried?

Take, for instance, an issue that I am hugely passionate about, ACTA...

Bad Monkey says FUCK ACTA

Since the most common meaning of ACTA is "Association of Canadian Travel Agents," I suppose I should state for the record that I have nothing against Canadian travel agents, but am instead referring to the world-wide "Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement."

Something else I should probably get out of the way...

I am in no way supporting counterfeiting here. Theft is theft, and I believe strongly that people should be compensated for their work, and have the right to prosecute those who would steal it.

And yet, because of journalism FAIL!, most people have never even heard of ACTA.

If you're not entirely bored by now and want to read the rest of my rant, I've put it in an extended entry...

So what exactly is ACTA? What does it do? Well, I wish I could tell you, except all the negotiations for the "treaty" are held in secret. In fact, one of the Obama Administration's very first acts in office was to deny access to ACTA negotiation documentation. So much for President Obama's promise of government transparency, but he's a politician, and I'm used to being lied to by politicians.

Based on what we do know, however, ACTA is "a proposed plurilateral trade agreement for establishing international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement throughout the participating countries. Its proponents describe it as a response 'to the increase in global trade of counterfeit goods and pirated copyright protected works.' The scope of ACTA is broad, including counterfeit goods, generic medicines, as well as 'piracy over the Internet.'" (source: Wikipedia).

So what's wrong with that? Counterfeiting is bad, so ACTA should be a good thing, right?

In theory, yes. Realistically speaking, I would have nothing to fear from ACTA myself. The only intellectual property I've obtained illegally... Baltimora's Living in the Background album... is now available on iTunes, so all my music, movies, television shows, books, and other items are 100% legal.

Well, mostly 100% legal.

There are a few songs I've purchased which are not technically legal. For songs I want which are not available here in the USA iTunes store, I pay friends in foreign countries to purchase them for me either on their International iTunes Store... or via CD rip... and email me the files. By my standards, I've paid the artist (or, more likely, the artist's record label) for the use of their music. By copyright standards, it's still illegal.

There are a few movies and television shows I've purchased which are not technically legal. Because of different tape formats and DVD region encoding, the media I purchase is not playable here in the USA on my equipment. But I purchase the media anyway so I can justify downloading the shows via BitTorrent. By my standards, I've paid for the stuff I've downloaded. By copyright standards, it's still illegal.

Seriously, I am as legal as I can reasonably be for everything I have. Stealing is against the fundamental precepts of my beliefs, and so it is not something I care to participate in.

And yet... by making the admissions above, I am clearly a counterfeiter in the eyes of the law. The letter of the law does not distinguish intent, nor does it account for severity. I am a criminal. It doesn't matter than I would happily legally purchase the content I've "stolen" if I had the opportunity. It's far easier for record labels, movie studios, and television networks to put the blame on me for their failure to distribute their product in a way I have access to.

As an example, take the music group a-ha... a long time favorite band whose best music came after their one hit "Take On Me." If you go to the USA iTunes store, all you can purchase is their earliest works and a few incomplete albums or EPs with one or two songs each. So how do I legally obtain their music? I either have to ask a foreign friend buy the CD and pay them outrageous money to ship it to me, or pay an importer outrageous money to purchase it direct. This is sublimely stupid in the age of digital distribution, but what other choice do I have if I don't want to steal music? For a band like a-ha the outrageous money is worth it to me (though I still haven't ponied up the cash for their latest album, and am hoping they have it for sale when I see them on their farewell tour in New York City). But what about other musicians that I am not fanatical about, yet still want to enjoy their work? Well, I take the "not-so-gray-area" legal route and pay a friend to send it to me digitally. Not really stealing, but technically illegal.

So, while I honestly shouldn't have anything to fear from ACTA, the reality of the matter could be very, very different. All I can do is speculate here because, as I mentioned, the negotiations for the "treaty" are private, but it's informed speculation.

Let's say the attorney for a-ha's Norwegian record label reads Blogography and finds this entry. I claim to have purchased import albums of all the a-ha music I own, but my admission of other crimes makes this claim suspect. Well, thanks to ACTA, the US government waives my personal rights and allows the evil Norwegian lawyers to invade my home, confiscate my computers and iPods, petition my Internet Service Provider to take down my blog for promoting piracy, have me added to the FBI's criminal watch-list, and extradited to Norway to have my day in court. Ultimately, I would be exonerated because I do, in fact, own all the import CDs for the a-ha music I have on my iPod, but it would make little difference after all I'd have been put through (though I would like to visit Norway again, so maybe I'm just whining here).

That's a pretty unrealistic scenario, I grant you... especially where Norway is concerned. But let's flip it around and take a look at it from the other direction. Let's look at how The United States of America would deal with such a situation.

Not so funny anymore, is it? Because we've got plenty of examples of just how fucked up things work here, don't we? Hell, we've got the RIAA suing a 10-year-old girl with a disabled mother for crimes they claim she committed at 7 years old! Now imagine that ACTA gives the RIAA far-reaching global powers that could theoretically allow them to search your iPod for stolen music as you enter the country (or dozens of even scarier scenarios I could dream up). Far-fetched? Paranoid? Maybe. But history will back me up when I say that nothing would surprise me when it comes to an American company's lust for lawsuits.

And I haven't even touched on the internet yet. ACTA has the potential to fuck up the internet but good. Suddenly ISPs are responsible for their internet customers. Web hosting companies are responsible for their customers. Bloggers are responsible for their commenters... it goes on and on. And if you don't think that's problematic... just read about how Google is being sued in Italy for a video that one of their users uploaded which they had nothing to do with. ACTA could make such insanity commonplace. Somebody posts a link to a site which offers just one illegal download in your comments and suddenly you're sued for providing access to stolen goods and your blog is deleted? Maybe.

Again, I'm not advocating counterfeiting or theft here, I'm just saying that keeping the negotiations for ACTA private has horrendous potential for diminishing personal liberties and internet freedom.

So why is something so terrible being ignored (for the most part) by journalists here in the USA? Well, look no further than the owners of the television networks, movie studios, and news organizations which control journalism in this country. You think ABC News is going to have a "Special Report" about the potential dangers of ACTA when they are owned by Disney, who is understandably rabid about protecting their intellectual property? Of course not. Sure it may get mentioned in passing as a show of "journalistic integrity" but that the real dangers are being glossed over should surprise nobody. Contrast and compare with what you'd see in Denmark (which, oddly enough, is one of the countries wanting to keep ACTA private)...

The odds of seeing discussion like that on a major network here in the USA is effectively zero.

So what can you do to educate yourself? Well, Boing-Boing is leading the charge in keeping people informed about ACTA goings on, so subscribing to their blog is probably a good start. If you're interested in researching ACTA yourself, here are some links...

Privacy and freedom don't come out of ignorance... you're going to have to fight for it.

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Comments

  1. B.E. Earl says:

    I hear Norway is beautiful this time of year.

  2. Excellent post. Best writeup of the potential pitfalls and general arsewipery of ACTA in general.

    • Dave2 says:

      Thanks, though I’m not sure how qualified I am to be speaking on it.

      Which is a real problem, because NOBODY is really qualified to be speaking on it, when we don’t really even know what “it” is. :-(

  3. Ren says:

    I don’t think the guy in that video did much to support his position. Too bad.

    My opinions and actions on this topic are similar to yours, though I do wonder what you think of some of my “crimes”. For example, I regularly rip DVDs *that I own* so that I can watch the movies on my iPhone (or on my laptop without needing to bring the DVDs with me). I think this activity is pretty clearly protected by “fair use”, though I’m not sure that’s actually been decided by the courts and I certainly expect the content owners to disagree. The real question for you, though, is what you think about taking it just a bit farther. I’ve started purchasing Blu-Ray movies. Some of these include a digital copy (or a DVD, allowing the above), but some don’t. When no digital copy is provided, I have no trouble borrowing the DVD to rip. Is that worse than ripping the DVD that I own?

    Regarding this issue of Google (and Bloggers) being held responsible for content they host, there is a bit of “live by the sword, die by the sword” at play there. By exerting any control of their content in the first place, they have accepted that responsibility. “Common Carrier” status is only available if you act as such.

    Please understand that I do not support ACTA and I certainly am not in favor of the private negotiations. And, of course, your point about the media is perfectly accurate. I’m just saying that I think we need some better examples of what’s wrong with content owners exerting so much control. Not being able to obtain entertainment media in ways that we like — or at all — isn’t really much of an argument.

    • Dave2 says:

      I put up the video not so much as an example of the perfect argument against ACTA, but because it illustrates the discussion happening elsewhere that we’re not going to see here (which is kind of the point of this entire entry). That being said, I think his argument was actually fairly good considering he was dumbing it down for a mass audience and arguing blind against something he can’t even see. His point that ACTA could very well be used to stifle freedom of speech and expression on the internet (as demonstrated by countries with similar powers) is pretty clear. His main argument of the discussion happening behind closed doors being a bad thing is equally well-presented. Pretty much everything else is just his opinion, and I think it was expressed as exactly that.

      As for your “crimes”… making a “backup” of material distributed in the USA is entirely different from the examples I gave and, so far as I know, is perfectly legal (despite media companies pushing for legislation that treats digital and physical aspects of the same material as two separate things which must be purchased separately). With that in mind, I think you have every right to borrow/rent a DVD to have a digital copy of material you purchased on Blu-Ray Disc that was released for distribution in our region. It’s a backup of material you already legally “own”… though I’m betting money that the studios fell differently, as you said. :-)

      However, I am purchasing works that are not licensed for distribution in the United States and “stealing” their illegally distributed digital equivalents so I can view/listen/experience it here in the USA without having to pay exorbitant amounts of money for physical media (i.e. CDs) or media players (i.e. Foreign Region Encoded DVD Players) that won’t go to the actual distributors/owners in the first place (but instead an importer or reseller). The fact that I “own” the original material makes no difference in the eyes of the law. It’s how I obtained the material that causes the problem (and, since it happened over the internet, makes it doubly dangerous).

      The one place I disagree with you here is the “live by the sword, die by the sword” argument in Google’s Italian legal troubles. Yes, Google does pull videos off YouTube when owners of the content object to it being there or it is in blatant disregard for their policies (such as posting video of a murder or something like that). But they don’t have a policy to review every video uploaded to the service! Their policy is and always has been reactionary. When they were made aware of the video in question, they removed it. To imply that that their current reactionary policy puts them in any position where they should be forced to take a proactive approach and review material before posting is not even in the same ballpark. For one thing, this actually WOULD put them into a position where they were responsible for the material… for another, it would be a near-impossible task to initiate fairly, and that would defeat the entire purpose of YouTube. If we are going to create laws that usurp all personal responsibility for end-users in matters like this, then our freedoms go right out the window. Our every action will have to be judged by somebody interpreting a highly-subjective law, which is one scary-ass example of what ACTA could potentially enable if not kept in-check.

      In the end, it’s difficult to provide ANY accurate examples of what could happen when content owners are given such extraordinary control… because we can’t even see what controls ACTA might be giving them! All we can do is provide real-life examples of current bad policy in the same arena and extrapolate from there. But regardless of what may or may not come of ACTA, you’re missing the point. The prime argument is not “being able to obtain entertainment media in ways we like,” that’s incidental. The true argument is that without any kind of public comment or review, these laws forged in private could be perverted in ways we cannot imagine. It’s how far content providers can go in the pursuit of enforcing their ownership that’s at issue here. What freedoms and liberties will we lose if ACTA comes to pass? We may not know until it’s too late.

      • Ren says:

        :-) I tried not to miss the point with the beginning of my last paragraph but admittedly co-opted your point in favor of a request for better examples of negative results that don’t sound like tin-foil-hat extremism. I haven’t come up with any.

        Also, I do agree that if Google (et. al.) are only removing content in a reactionary way, that may be OK. But I’m not sure. By even having a policy, like the one you mention regarding murder, my admittedly limited understanding leads me to believe that they’ve lost common carrier status. Can the phone company disconnect my call based on my conversation?

        BTW, I’m not sure the content owners think your “stealing” and my “stealing” are different. And while it seems likely that one of the big problems with ACTA will be a complete lack of a fair use provision, even under US law (one of the few countries with fair use) it is only an affirmative defense against copyright infringement rather than an explicit exception as most people (those who even have a clue what fair use is) think of it.

        PS: I’ve finished the first two seasons of Veronica Mars and have enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for inspiring my viewing. :-)

        • Dave2 says:

          Ah, but are you LEGALLY enjoying Veronica Mars? I think that’s all that’s important now!

          But, even given the “murder video” scenario… Google would not pre-screen it to take it down (unless they have some kind of keyword flagging in place for review, and somebody was stupid enough to tag the video as “ME MURDERING SOMEBODY IN COLD BLOOD!”). The files would probably post automatically and THEN either Google employees would notice it, or (more likely) somebody flagging the video as “inappropriate” would initiate the action. In any event, I think that ultimately the end-user has to hold responsibility for what they post on a public forum. Otherwise there won’t BE any public forums.

          As to whether the phone company can disconnect your “inappropriate call”… I’d say yes. That’s what The Patriot Act is for!

  4. Nate says:

    I don’t ordinarily comment on blogs, but I have some issues with ACTA as you clearly do. I have bought several CDs that are not licensed for sale in the States, but I have the CDs in my possession. Does this mean that they can scan my iPhone/laptop for this music and arrest me or fine me if this is the case? I bought the music on eBay. Does this mean that they can go through my online purchases and fine me for stuff that I bought years ago. This is just not right. Ridiculous! Ugh!

    • Dave2 says:

      Noooooobody knoooooows!

      In my opinion, this is not illegal, as that’s how I “legally” obtain my music (though I try not to buy on eBay because, odds are, the person selling it ripped it before they sold it, thus making it “stolen goods”). :-)

  5. Sybil Law says:

    Holy shizz.
    I actually have heard of ACTA before, but I don’t know where, why, or how. Regardless, thanks for the info!
    Nothing politicians do anymore surprises me. The only time that could happen is if someone actually came up with common sense led by a good, honest heart. Then, I’d probably drop dead of a heart attack.

  6. lizriz says:

    This is really interesting. It drives me crazy that there’s not, for example, one Amazon store. It seems completely ridiculous that there’s things in the Amazon UK store that aren’t in our Amazon store.

    • Dave2 says:

      In some respects, I can understand how cultural, sociological, political, and even geographic distinctions could make having separate stores for different countries or regions a good thing (even if just for fulfillment logistics). But, that being said, I agree that it’s ridiculous that once you get past that initial segregation that most foreign material isn’t available AT ALL. ESPECIALLY for digitally distributed material.

      All it does is encourage the piracy that they’re trying to stop.

  7. Rick says:

    Forgive me father, for I have committed journalism. But I have to wonder what the fuck they’re teaching in j-school these days? Grooming and posing? You know ABC is owned by Disney, right? I know that because that’s when I bailed.

    • Dave2 says:

      I do indeed. And say so in the paragraph just above the video… ” You think ABC News is going to have a “Special Report” about the potential dangers of ACTA when they are owned by Disney, who is understandably rabid about protecting their intellectual property?”

      Conflict of interest much? :-)

  8. GeekyTaiTai says:

    I’m so glad you posted this because your tweets yesterday had me intrigued. At least now I know what ACTA is, kinda, sorta.

    When you said, “The odds of seeing discussion like that on a major network here in the USA is effectively zero.” Uh, yeah, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a 6:05-minute segment on any “news” station in this country.

  9. NYCWD says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that secrecy over public policy is inherently evil.

    Therefore ACTA, and the administration that wants to keep it secret, is the anti-christ.

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