24 April 2013

Please Write to MEPs *Now* about TAFTA/TTIP

There's an important vote in INTA today (25 April) on the transatlantic trade agreement (TAFTA/TTIP), and there are some crucial issues that you might like to convey to your MEP, especially if they are on the INTA committee. La Quadrature du Net has put together a splendid page explaining which amendments to the proposed draft resolution need to be adopted, and which rejected. There's also a list of MEPs on the INTA committee, so you can check if there's yours.

Here's what I've sent to my MEP:

My fear is that attempts may be made to turn this treaty into ACTA by the backdoor, and I'm sure that none of us really wants to go through all that again. I'd therefore like to urge you and your colleagues on INTA to reject Amendment 115, and to adopt Amendment 121.

I'd also like to mention the problems with investor-state disputes. As you doubtless know, Eli Lilly is suing the Canadian government for $100 million because the Canadian courts decided that Eli Lilly's patent application did not meet the stated requirements (I wrote an article about it here: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130208/03441521918/canada-denies-patent-drug-so-us-pharma-company-demands-100-million-as-compensation-expropriation.shtml).

Eli Lilly wishes to use the investor-state dispute mechanism to overturn a legal, valid decision by the courts, following established Canadian law, simply because the company is not happy with it. As you can see, this threatens the sovereignty of any nation that agrees to such mechanisms, which were brought in for countries that had poor legal systems.

That is not the case for the EU and US, so the investor-state dispute mechanism is unnecessary, but represents a grave threat to not just every country in the EU, but the European Parliament itself, which could see its laws overruled by secret arbitration courts. I would thus urge you to accept Amendment 164 and exclude investor-state dispute mechanisms from the mandate.
Finally, I would like to ask that Amendment 174 be accepted. This requires the US to agree to transparency – something that was sadly lacking in ACTA, and which caused huge problems there. To those who say that it is not possible to reveal secret documents without compromising the negotiations, there is a simple answer: make public only those documents that are tabled for discussion. At that point, they are no longer secret, and therefore no advantage can be lost by releasing them. Documents that have not yet been tabled can be kept secret. Transparency would allow European citizens to follow and be engaged by the negotiations, rather than kept in the dark and alienated from them.

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16 April 2013

Letter to UK Supermarkets on Use of non-GM Feed

As you may have read, by an amazing coincidence, most of the UK's leading supermarkets have simultaneously announced that they will no longer use non-GM feed (I'm sure there was no conferring whatsoever...).  The stated reason is that, much as they'd like to, they just can't find non-GM feed anymore.  Ain't that a pity?

Oddly, though, ABRANGE, the Brazilian Association for Producers of Non-GMO Soy, has just released a statement saying there's no shortage, just a queue of ships waiting to load goods at Brazilian docks.

So, I thought I'd send an email to the supermarkets concerned, asking for their comments on the good news that they don't need to adopt GM feed.  There's a list of addresses if you feel like doing the same. Here's what I've sent:

Last week you announced that you will no longer require that the farm animals in your supply chains are fed a non-GM diet. You said the reason for this was simply that non-GM feed is no longer available. And yet this week, ABRANGE, the Brazilian Association for Producers of Non-GMO Soy, released a statement (available at http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/52-2013/14771-brazilian-non-gm-soy-producers-baffled-by-uk-retailers-decision) which included the following: 
"The current situation, which United Kingdom retailers have been lead to believe is do to reduced quantities and availability of Non-GMO soy actually has nothing to do with the soy being GMO or Non-GMO; it is the result of a slow down in Brazilian exports, which is due to increased pressure on Brazilian export facilities caused by increased demand for all types of exports from Brazil. There is a shortage of berths for mooring ships in virtually every Brazilian port. In some cases, ships must queue for 30-40 days just to dock and load. This is not due to lack of Non-GMO product in the harbour warehouses nor due to the logistics required to deliver product to the port, but to lack of available berths for mooring ships caused by spiralling export demand. 
This situation is temporary, as exporters are actively seeking solutions to circumvent the export slow down. 
Although one large supplier of non-GMO soy has withdrawn from the market, others continue to supply, and assure that they are still quite capable of consistently delivering material to UK customers." 
This suggests that you have been seriously misled by your suppliers, and that non-GM feed is indeed available. I would therefore be interested to hear your comment on this situation.

I would also hope that you will now re-consider your decision in the light of the fact the majority of UK shoppers do not wish to buy products made with GM feed, and that the problem you identified – the lack of non-GM feed - is in fact not an issue.

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14 April 2013

Here's Another Inventor Who Willingly Gave Away His Greatest Idea In Order To Establish It As A Global Standard

Beyond the fact that you are using it to read these words, the Web has undeniably had a major impact on a large part of the world's population. It's certainly one of the greatest inventions of recent times, and as Techdirt has noted before, one of the reasons it has taken off in such an amazing way, and led to so many further innovations, is because Sir Tim Berners-Lee decided not to patent it.

EU Proposal for (Nearly) Open Data [Update]

Update: Maël Brunet has pointed out that the press release I linked to below is from 2011; what was actually announced yesterday was that the EU Council's 'Coreper' committee (EU Committee of Member States' Permanent Representatives) has now endorsed the measures announced there. So, nothing has changed from what I wrote below, but another hurdle has been cleared in making the open data initiative happen. All that remains is for the European Parliament to agree, and the rules will come into force. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that any amendments will be included at this stage, so it looks like we only get "almost" open data....

French Politician Wants To Limit How Cheaply Companies Can Sell Goods Online Compared to Physical Shop Prices

A couple of weeks ago, Techdirt wrote about a store that was trying to charge customers $5 for "just looking", because it felt that many people were merely inspecting goods there before then buying them online. Guillaume Champeau points us to a French politician who is also worried about the same problem, and hasproposed modifying the law governing commerce to deal with it (original in French). Here's the politician's explanation in the preamble of why it is needed:

How Multilateral Free Trade Agreements Are Bypassing Democratic Decision-Making Around The World

One of the most worrying aspects of ACTA -- which began life as a "simple" treaty about combatting counterfeit goods -- was how it morphed into a new approach to global policy making. This had two key aspects. First, the treaty would be negotiated in secret, with minimal input from the public, but plenty from lobbyists, who were given access to key documents and to negotiators. Secondly, the results of those secret negotiations were designed to constrain the participating governments in important ways that nullified ordinary democratic decision-making. If at all, representative bodies were presented with a take-it-or-leave it choice; changing individual details was not an option.

OpenDaylight and the Future of Enterprise Software

Earlier this week, the Linux Foundation made an announcement about the oddly-named OpenDaylight project:

I Re-send My IPRED Letter to the European Commission

Last week I wrote a letter to the European Commission about theextraordinary failure of the IPRED consultation process. I certainly didn't expect a reply immediately, but I did hope that its arrival might have been acknowledged by now. It hasn't, so I've now emailed the following:

French Intelligence Agency Forces Wikipedia Volunteer to Delete Article; Re-Instated, It Becomes Most-Read Page On French Wikipedia

Last week, we wrote about an organization that was unhappy that a Wikipedia article no longer existed. Now we have the opposite problem: an organization unhappy because a Wikipedia article does exist. And not just any organization, but the "Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intéieur" (Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence, DCRI), a French intelligence agency, which suddenly decided that an article about a military base contained classified information, and wanted it deleted. As the English-language Wikipedia article on the subject explains:

Google Under Attack in the EU: Microsoft to the Rescue?

As I wrote last week, all the main browsers are jockeying for position in the world of mobile, which is generally recognised as the key future platform. One player that is struggling here is Microsoft: its mobile phone strategy has signally failed to take off, leaving it a minor player alongside the duopoly of Apple and Google. Its tie-up with Nokia is part of its attempt to make its products relevant here, but another important aspect of its counter-attack is through the legal system.

Icelandic Politicians Ignore Crowdsourced Constitution; Pirate Party Rejoices

Techdirt has been following the fascinating saga of Iceland's crowdsourced constitution for nearly two years. Back in October 2012, we noted that Icelandic citizens gave it a pretty big thumbs up. Reflecting that, it really looked like Iceland's parliament might pass the associated bill, and go down in the history books for this bold re-invention of itself.

Mozilla and the Open Source Browser Bonanza

Even if you don't remember the birth of Mozilla 15 years ago, you are certainly benefitting from its consequences. For, back then, the company that invented the Web as a mass medium, Netscape, was in its death throes, and looked likely to take Web browser choice with it.

Amazon Refuses To Publish First Cornish-Language Ebook

As we've noted before, Amazon is beginning to wield considerable power over the entire publishing chain. The past teaches us that as successful companies gain near-monopoly powers, their arbitrary decisions become more problematic. Here's an unusual example of that, pointed out to us by @IndigenousTweet via @MLBrook:

Letter to European Commission on IPRED

Following my post yesterday about the extraordinary failure of the IPRED consultation process, I enclose below my letter sent to the European Commission on the subject, calling for an extension to the consultation, and for alternative ways of making submissions:

Wikipedia Editor Threatened With Lawsuit For Participating In Discussion Leading To Deletion Of Entry

After weathering earlier attacks on its reliability, Wikipedia is now an essential feature of our online and cultural landscapes. Indeed, it's hard now to imagine a world where you can't quickly check up some fact or other by going online to Wikipedia and typing in a few keywords. But that centrality brings with it its own problems, as a post from Benjamin Mako Hill about legal threats he received thanks to his work as a Wikipedia editor makes clear.

Indian Supreme Court Rejects Trivial 'Evergreening' Of Pharma Patents

Back in October last year, in the context of India showing itself increasingly sceptical about pharma patents that drive up drug prices beyond the reach of its citizens, we wrote about an important court battle over Novartis's drug Gleevec, sold as Glivec in India. The definitive judgement from India's Supreme Court was announced today, reported here by The Guardian:

The Great IPRED Consultation Fiasco

Last week I made a couple of urgent pleas to readers to complete the major EU IPRED consultation, which was being conducted on the Web. Since I needed to be able to refer to my own answers, I saved these as a draft online so that I could go back to them, polish them, and then submit them.

NATO 'Cyberwar' Manual Says Hacktivists Must Wear A Uniform

Last year, Techdirt wrote about an interesting article suggesting that we should welcome "cyberwar" since it would be so much less painful than the ordinary kind. Of course, that begs the question what we actually mean by "cyberwar", since some forms are probably less humane than others. As we have pointed out, the use of the totally embarrassing "cyber" prefix is really just an excuse for more government controls and for security companies to get fat contracts implementing them.