02 September 2011

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Monopoly

Just when you think that Sarkozy can't get any worse, he does:

Le ministère des affaires étrangères a fait savoir que la France ne souhaite pas signer de déclaration de l'ONU favorable à la défense des droits de l'Homme sur Internet tant qu'il n'y aura pas de consensus sur le fait que la liberté d'expression et de communication ne prime pas sur les autres droits, en particulier la propriété intellectuelle.
[Google Translate: The Foreign Ministry said that France does not wish to sign a UN declaration favorable to the defense of human rights on the Internet until there is no consensus on the fact that freedom expression and communication does not take precedence over other rights, including intellectual property.]

And in case you were wondering what that might mean, here it is spelled out:
Car le gouvernement a beau jeu de rappeler que "la liberté, le respect de la vie privée et de la propriété intellectuelle" sont tous des droits fondamentaux de même niveau, et que "la France estime qu'il ne doit pas y avoir de hiérarchie entre ces droits".
[Google Translate: Because the government has an easy to remember that "freedom, respect for privacy and intellectual property" rights are all at the same level, and that "France considers that it should not be a hierarchy between these rights. "]

 That is, Sarkozy believes that the right to an intellectual monopoly - the right to *exclude* people from knowledge - is absolutely equal to the fundamental right to freedom.

This is a sad come-down for a nation whose modern origins were based on the idea of freedom in contradistinction to the privilege and oppression of the Ancien Régime it replaced. It also runs completely counter to France's interests.

After all, it is no secret that French language and culture are in steep decline from their former positions of global leadership.  Indeed, France spends considerable amounts of money promoting "Francophonie" in an attempt to halt the slide.

The worst thing the French government can do would be to make it *harder* to access French culture in the form of literature, music, films, etc through increasingly punitive enforcement of outdated copyright laws.  Instead, it should be encouraging all the relevant industries to make their wares available as widely as possible - if necessary through subsidies.

And yet Sarkozy seems to regard supporting his fat-cat chums in the copyright industries as more important than truly helping the broader culture French culture, or even - heaven forfend - supporting universal ideals like freedom.

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PV said...

It gets worse. I remember seeing a quote from an RIAA executive (I believe this executive was working in their Mexico division, ironically enough) equating software/music/film piracy to...the Mexican drug wars. It's truly sickening, though your article is just as sickening because that's coming not from an industry executive out to make a bajillion bucks but the president of France, no less!
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Glyn Moody said...

@PV: yes, you're right, that comparison was particularly sick:


Jean-Marc Liotier said...

Wait, it gets worse : "c'est l'ensemble des droits de l'Homme qui doivent aussi être garantis, et notamment le respect de la vie privée et celui de la propriété intellectuelle" translates as "all human rights must also be guaranteed - among them privacy and intellectual property". In substance the same idea you mentioned in the article, except that in this sentence intellectual property is casually introduced as a human right... Now that's innovation !

Glyn Moody said...

@Jean-Marc: well, sadly, the European Charter of Fundamental Human rights says:

"Intellectual property shall be protected."

(Article 17 - http://www.europarl.europa.eu/charter/pdf/text_en.pdf)

Not sure if that means it claims that it is a human right or not...

Crosbie Fitch said...

Bear in mind that if the 18th century privilege of copyright is abolished, there's nothing in the charter that says it must be re-instated.

The right is to copy, and it naturally exists in all of us as part of our liberty.

Copyright is the privilege that annuls the right to copy in the majority, to leave it, by exclusion in the hands of a few (copyright holders). In this way it becomes a quasi 'privacy right' to exclude others from making copies of one's works in their possession. Naturally, one can only exclude others from making copies of works in one's own possession - natural privacy.

So there is both unnatural intellectual property (copyright, patent, trademark) and natural intellectual property (privacy/natural exclusive right).

The unnatural/quasi intellectual property should of course be abolished being in fundamental conflict with natural/human rights. But the charter can still say that "Intellectual property shall be protected". It doesn't mean that copyright shouldn't be abolished - it should.

Jean-Marc Liotier said...

At http://www.wipo.int/tk/en/hr/ the WIPO claims that "Intellectual property rights are recognized as human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948" but looking at http://www.udhr.org/UDHR/udhr.HTM I see no such claim.

The basic premise of human rights is that they are universal. Intellectual property may be part of a society's legal framework and enforced as such, but it is not a universal concept. Pushing the non-universal concept of intellectual property as a human right is therefore fraud.

Glyn Moody said...

@Crosbie: that's a relief

Glyn Moody said...

@Jean-Marc: that's very interesting - thanks for pointing it out

Nelson Cruz said...

I can agree that there "should not be a hierarchy between these rights". But the trend of the last two decades or so is to put intellectual property very much above freedom of speech and communication when these rights collide. Sarkozy's "3 strikes" law is a prime example.

It used to be that intellectual property was a commercial regulation only. You had to commercially infringe for it be applied and enforced against you. And I believe that is the proper balance.

When you sing in the shower no one comes to check if the song is copyrighted. When you talk on the phone no one listens to see if you read anything copyrighted. When you send mail no one checks if it is a copyrighted poem or even an entire book. (At least no yet.) But try sending an ebook or song via bittorrent...

So, fine... no hierarchy of rights, but there needs to be a balance. Lets keep intellectual property out of people's privacy sphere. And there should be strong "fair use" rights on certain public and/or commercial uses where it is in the overwhelming public interest for them to be allowed.

PS: Suddenly I'm getting the idea to do a simple graphic with "(C) doesn't belong in my shower, phone, mail or other private communications". Something like that.

Crosbie Fitch said...

Yup, the EDHR says everyone has an equal right to the protection of material interests arising in their intellectual works, and it's not too much of a stretch to include the automatic grant of copyright as a material interest. However, there's a difference between having equal protection of one's privilege and having equal protection of one's right.

The sleight of hand is to insinuate that if the privilege is a material interest and is thus recognised as such by the EDHR and so deserving of protection, that therefore it must be a human right for people to be able to prohibit others singing their songs, telling their stories, or copying their poems...

...or selling this 'human right' to immortal publishing corporations for them to protect and exploit it with draconian force.

There is thus a categorical difference between the natural, vital power to prevent another human being retelling a story one has told them (which plainly doesn't exist in nature and so cannot be a right), and the transferable privilege (that annuls people's right to copy from the law's recognition of it as within their liberty) created by Queen Anne in 1709 and enjoyed today by immortal publishing corporations.

The amusing thing is, that as fast as some are trying to make out that copyright is a human right (and that corporations are human beings), so others are saying that human rights should be secondary to law (not vice versa) and thus cede to utilitarian privileges such as monopolies. There's evidently a bit of a confusion going on - mostly because ethics & natural rights have been quietly removed from the educational curriculum and hardly anyone knows the difference between a right and a privilege.

Copyright is our human right to copy, it's just been 'taken' from us and put in the hands of a few (typically an immortal and egregiously inhuman few). Copyright is thus a derogation of our liberty.

Natural rights aren't some kind of political movement, they are an explanation of human nature and help understand why privileges cannot prevail against rights. The rule of law cannot long contradict natural law, however much money you have to corrupt legislators to say otherwise.

mmu_man said...

It should be noted that Sarkozy's quote is plain wrong. Our constitution cites *property* alone as rights of equal values than freedom of speech.

So called "Intellectual Property" is a recent and erratic construction ("Imaginary property" would be more correct) to regroup unrelated things such as "droit d'auteur" (copyright), patents and trademarks, and was certainly not included in the term "property" meant by the authors of the constitution and various declarations of human rights.

The fact that it must be qualified as "intellectual" implies that it is not naturally part of "property" itself.

Glyn Moody said...

@mmu_man: that's very interesting - thanks. yes, it shows why they are so keen to pretend that intellectual monopolies are "intellectual property".

Mark Goodge said...

In a slightly paradoxical way, this might just make things easier in the UK. I pointed out to my MP, who happens to be both pro IP restrictions and anti-EU, yesterday that the EU is expected to extend copyright on recorded music despite the fact that the Hargreaves review - which has already been accepted by the UK government - clearly states that there is no justification for doing so. I invited him to comment on what we can do to prevent the EU from forcing us to adopt IP laws which are damaging to British businesses, and it was rather interesting watching him squirm as he attempted to reconcile his two positions.

The point here is that the pro-reform camp within the ruling coalition is generally found at the more liberal end (with both a capital and lower-case 'L'), which is also generally the more pro-EU end, while the anti-reform (or pro-restrictions) camp are generally at the more conservative and anti-EU end. But the pro-reformers aren't so pro-EU that they'll happily accept any EU ruling which happens to come along, while, on the other hand, the anti-reformers are uncomfortable with supporting anything which seems to be emanating from the EU. So the dissonance here is more likely to push anti-EU campaigners into the pro-reform group than vice versa.

Incidentally, a conversation later with another MP, one of my MP's colleagues, proved a lot more fruitful though. Not only does he not share my MP's views on copyright, but he also made the very good point that, within parliament, it's very much a generational thing - the newer intake of younger MPs are much more inclined to be pro-reform, because they tend to understand the nature of the technology issues better.

Glyn Moody said...

@Mark: yes, that's a good point, and an approach whose efficacity I've often pondered.

The generational thing in certainly true, but does impose fairly long time-scales. Some of us don't want to wait...