Day 94-XX, Naples.
Naples, February 9
As a march we have adhered to one of today’s most important battles against corporate and government oppression. The battle against ACTA.
ACTA is a global agreement to fight counterfeit products, generic medicine and internet piracy. It has been developed by first world countries (EU, America, Australia and Japan) and pharmaceutical and motion picture corporations over the course of five years, in complete secrecy.
It aims to criminalise the sharing of copyrighted information and the reproduction of any type of patented artwork, technology, medicine, DNA-string or whatever. To do so, a new worldwide organisation will be created to coordinate the repression.
Internet providers will be forced to control all the content that passes through their servers. Internet users will be effectively put under corporate surveillance. They risk monetary fines and even prison time for sharing copyrighted works.
Generic cheap medicine could be outlawed for the benefit of the patent holding pharmaceutical corporations, which would gain a monopoly and could ask whatever price they want for their products. The cost of health care would keep rising, with devastating effects on the third world, and with corporate profits reaching the sky.
I’m not an expert on all this, but I always thought that the concept of copyright was meant to protect the creator of a given artwork or technology, by conceding that person the monopoly over his or her creation for a limited period. This would stimulate innovation, because any inventor could be sure that no-one else would benefit financially from his creation in the short term. Then, once the limited period ends, the invention would become public domain, and could be used and reproduced by anyone for the benefit of further innovation.
“To promote the progress of science and useful arts”, was the official reason why a copyright clause was included in the United States Constitution. But since then, things have changed. Nowadays public universities are reluctant to sponsor research into certain medicines or gene sequences, because they might encounter in copyright infringements and lawsuits by large pharmaceutical corporations, just to give an example.
Instead of protecting crackpot inventors or brilliant musicians, copyright legislation has turned into a way for big corporations to squeeze as much profit out of successful products as possible. For this reason the ‘limited period’ of copyright protection has been lengthened over and over again to include the entire lifetime of the author, and far beyond.
Typically, copyright was lengthened in the United States when Mickey Mouse was about to become public domain, even though its creator, Walt Disney, could not personally benefit from it, because he was frozen dead for over thirty years.
One of the great problems with copyright, and with our judicial system as a whole, is the concept of corporate personhood. Not just real people can be held responsible in a court of law or entitled to copyright, but also enterprises are legally treated as a person, while the people governing that enterprise don’t bare any personal responsibility at all.
This can lead to very strange interpretations of copyright. A famous example of this is the city of Duckburg, and the characters of Uncle Scrooge, Gyro Gearloose, the Beagle Boys, Gladstone Gander and many more.
This city and all of these characters were invented by the great storyteller Carl Barks. But because he did so while working on a license by Walt Disney, the copyright belonged to the Walt Disney Company. Barks spent twenty-five years writing and drawing the most brilliant comics that ever bore the name Walt Disney, his stories sold billions of copies worldwide, and he never saw a cent of royalties. He was paid per page, less than his colleagues, and he lived in a trailer.
After his retirement he started painting scenes taken from his own stories, many of them with the characters he had invented himself. They sold very well. His fans were happy to pay ever higher prices to have a ‘real Barks’ on the wall. At that point, the Disney corporation stepped in, and forbade their most prolific artist from painting his own characters, because of ‘copyright infringement’
The concept of copyright needs to be completely revolutionised to adapt it to modern times and make sure it really stimulates innovation. But this is not what ACTA is about. ACTA is not just another attempt to resusitate the dying record industry, it is a declaration of war on the internet user and on all the people who benefit from generic medicine. Not for the greater good of artists or inventors, but for the financial gain of the shareholders of major corporations.
In the end, all art and technology belongs to humanity. And internet is a fabulous means to share culture on the widest possible scale. I’m confident that ACTA will crash and burn, because nowadays people are no longer going to finance companies like Sony Music by paying twenty euros for a cd or a dvd. But they will still go to the cinema, or to a concert, or to a musical. If the bigwigs want to keep on making money, they should stimulate people to do so, instead of hunting down the ‘pirates’ who download their favourite music and films through the web.