03 December 2009

The Great Digital Bait and Switch

One of the (many) things that get my goat about ACTA is the sheer dishonesty of the project. It was originally put forward as aiming to curb large-scale counterfeiting - hence its name, Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

It was sold as only going for the "big fish", with promises that ordinary people wouldn't be inconvenienced. In fact, it was purely for their benefit, its proponents explained, since one of the most heinous kinds of counterfeiting it attempts to tackle is counterfeit drugs - an undeniable health hazard.

But then something strange happened. Counterfeiting morphed into copyright infringement, and yet all the legal heavy guns aimed at massive, criminal counterfeiting remain, now ranged against little you and me.

What's interesting is that there's clearly a collateral campaign underway to support ACTA by hammering on the wickedness of counterfeiting - allowing the bait and switch game to be played again. Here's an example:

Canada trails far behind the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and France by not enacting tougher laws and penalties for selling imported bogus goods, an anti-counterfietting conference heard yesterday.

Lorne Lipkus, of the Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network, said a private members' bill will soon lobby Parliament for expanded copyright laws, seizure rights similar to those that block suspected fake goods entering the U.S., plus heavier sentences for convicted sellers and importers.

The Toronto lawyer and conference organizer estimated Canadian manufacturers lose $20 to $30 billion and thousands of jobs to cheaper knockoffs.

We are warned against "knock-offs": counterfeit goods are clearly knock-offs, but so, in the minds of the media cartel, are unauthorised copies of copyright material. The difference between counterfeit and copyright has been subtly elided. As a result, the solution demanded for this large-scale counterfeiting of goods - clearly *physical* goods - is "expanded copyright law".

Nor is this the only underhand attack. Here's a very poor article in the Wall Street Journal:

The palm-sized Arduino serves as an electronic brain running everything from high schoolers' robots to high-end art installations. But perhaps the oddest thing about the device is the business model behind it.

Plans for the Arduino, a simple microcontroller board, are available online, and anybody may legally use them to build and sell knockoffs.

This, in some ways, is even worse. It's equating the ability to *build* on the work of others, and improve upon it, as another kind of "knock-off". This is not just wrong-headed, but really pernicious, because it implies that open source is little better than counterfeiting.

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PV said...

I'm not surprised in the least bit at the tone of the WSJ article. Given Rupert Murdoch's stance on copyrighting his articles and asking Google to take down his material for such violations, the article would obviously reflect an unfounded bias against anything freely available.
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Glyn Moody said...

@PV: sad, though, if editors are meekly toeing that line...