Saturday, May 12, 2012

On the Legislation of Information and Creativity

On the Legislation of Information and Creativity
(Speech on the Occasion of a demonstration against surveillance and ACTA)

We have every reason to celebrate but to remain vigilant.

Attempts by commercial interests to influence public policy have been around for a long long time. In recent years with the massive development of cyber-infrastructure the role legislation plays in the culture of daily life is no longer restricted to education, publication, music and cinema as it was for such a long period of time. Today connectivity, social media, the information economy and society are intertwined, where every ripple on the digital pool has results for everybody. Today we are gathered here to voice our concerns and hopes for the future of the information society.

After ten years of professional research on digital culture and technology I have observed a worrying trend in recent years regarding how the architecture of the information economy is maintained. The massive acceptance of apps, enclosed programs mostly run in isolation on mobile devices by single users, is a great analogy for how many large corporations would like to see the Internet. You buy the app and then the channel is open for you to purchase content or receive updates from the source of the technology. In effect you live in a walled garden; you and your app. You are enjoying each other’s company but finding it difficult to meet others and share content with them. The “Like” button on Facebook works on a similar principle. You register an opinion but you really share nothing. Exactly what large corporations want; identifiable individuals consuming.

Into this growing environment of lonely consumption come the corporate lobby groups. They have been doing ok recently, thanks to new systems such as subscriptions for streaming content, apps, DRM licensing, and of course government legislation regarding copyright. However, there are still massive leakages in their revenue systems. There are strong desires from the corporate sector to see further gains in Intellectual Property Rights control.  Young people are being targeted by organizations such as the International Trademark Association (INTA), and anti-counterfeiting and the need for harmonization of existing laws (which means making more laws) are the reasoning behind recent campaigns for increased IP legislation.  Free trade agreements have been used in Australia and India to bring in tighter controls on IP, often to the detriment of small time traditional industries and crafts. Negotiations on bills to be put before governments in both Europe and the United States have seen the unparallelled presence of interest bodies from rights and patent holders and managers. The artists are not so extremely vocal in relation to increased control for rights holders, as many of them do not control the publication of their own works.

However, we do have a lot to celebrate today:

Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) - the White House said Mr Obama would veto the act if it reached his desk.

Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) –

The ACTA agreement was signed in October 2011 by Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States. In January 2012, the European Union and 22 countries that are member states of the European Union signed as well. No signatory has ratified (formally approved) the agreement, which would come into force after ratification by 6 countries. After entry into force, the treaty would only apply in those countries that ratified it.

Helena Drnovšek-Zorko, Slovenian ambassador to Japan, issued a statement on 31 January 2012 expressing deep remorse for having signed the agreement. "I signed ACTA out of civic carelessness, because I did not pay enough attention. Quite simply, I did not clearly connect the agreement I had been instructed to sign with the agreement that, according to my own civic conviction, limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history, and thus limits particularly the future of our children," she said

The ACTA treaty is unlikely to be ratified by the European Union, according to Neelie Kroes, the powerful European commissioner for telecoms and technology.

"After the tremendous mobilization of citizens around the world against Sopa and Acta, it would be extremely dangerous politically for the commission to propose a new repressive scheme," said Jeremie Zimmermann, from Internet advocacy group La Quadrature du Net.

In this environment of change and challenge, we stand here with the desire to maintain freedom of information and expression, to allow the poor of the world to access medicines, and to allow for innovation and development driven from the sector where the talent and creativity are strongest and not solely dependent upon money. The legislation of information and creativity pushed by corporate concerns is an ominous sign. The greatest periods of human civilization have not been the times when the lawyers ruled, but rather when education and culture was the domain of the many. The establishment of law for the benefit of the many must be coupled with the opportunity to create and share. In this digital age we now possess tools that allow for this on an unprecedented scale. I hope that my grandchildren can look back at this time and see it as the beginning of a golden age, rather than the start of a culture based on surveillance, control and capital power.

Thank you.

James Barrett
12 May 2012.

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