A Copyright Masquerade review: Modern lobbying unmasked

A Copyright Masquerade review: Modern lobbying unmasked

Summary: The way in which corporations and other stakeholders seek to manipulate the formulation of intellectual property legislation around the world is an important story, and one that's well told in this engaging and informative book.

TOPICS: After Hours, Reviews
A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedom • By Monica Horten • Zed Books • 294 pages • ISBN: 978-1-78032-640-5 • £16.99

Monica Horten seems to like to write the kind of book that most people would find acutely painful: studies of the complex and lengthy routes by which EU legislation is formed. She is particularly interested in the machinations surrounding copyright: her previous book studied copyright law's colonisation of the telecoms package — itself an unusually abstruse area of law.

In A Copyright Masquerade, Horten studies three worked examples: Spain's Ley Sinde; the failed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA); and Britain's Digital Economy Act.

Taken together, these cases show a great deal about how modern lobbying works in any field. Today's lobbyists don't settle for rolling up to legislators' offices and making their case. No: they draft entire pieces of legislation. They policy-launder, persuading multiple countries to pass the same provisions — once one country obliges, all the rest can be encouraged to follow suit in the interests of 'harmonisation'. They use what Horten calls "instruments of economic pressure", which explains how the US trade delegation can be pushing for international copyright controls that the country's own citizens do not want. None of this is democracy as we would wish it to be carried out. Horten's work is, accordingly, important: it explains why the evidence and the popular vote can all line up, and yet not be reflected in the law that finally passes.

One must respect Horten's willingness to plough through and make sense of mountains of legal and policy documents, and her ability to turn the results into a reasonable story.

In all three of these cases, the policies sought by representatives of the film, television and music industries were the same: graduated response and tougher sanctions against copyright infringers. Those who have been paying attention will note that France, the first country to pass such a law, known there as HADOPI, has already repealed it on the basis that the penalties it provided were disproportionate.

For me, the most interesting portion of the book covers the the little-known Special 301, a US government process that monitors the intellectual property policies of every country and ranks them according to how well those policies match US interests. Those countries that do poorly in this study are placed on a blacklist and pushed to change their laws.

One must respect Horten's willingness to plough through and make sense of mountains of legal and policy documents, and her ability to turn the results into a reasonable story. A more mainstream publisher might have insisted that Horten make the story more exciting by finding compelling lobbyist personalities to follow, but that's not Horten's style. And yet what she proves ought to be pretty exciting by itself. At risk here is not the freedom of the internet, but democracy itself.

Topics: After Hours, Reviews

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  • It will get worse!

    Until some way is found to show the base citizens how much this costs THEM! this will just continue to sink farther into the pond scum.
    Our ""elected officials"" are even allowed to be inider traders and no one even seems to care.
  • No surprise - anti-copyright book by anti-copyright advocate

    There's a special irony here - Monica Horten writing about corporate control of the legislative process, and ignoring Google's overwhelming influence. Anyone who is interested in learning more about the legislative process from an unbiased perspective should check out the Telegraph's coverage: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/10335645/Google-has-better-access-to-No-10-than-I-do-says-minister.html

    I get that there's a business in selling Berkman-approved red-meat messaging to the pro-piracy crowd, but it appears that the wholly unbalanced presentation in this book will make readers fundamentally dumber - a basic journalistic point that ZDNet should have made.
  • Copyright periods are too long

    The duration of copyright has been repeatedly, unreasonably and arbitrarily extended, largely because of thuggish pressure and unilateral lobbying from the Walt Disney Co. and Hollywood studios without seeking representations from the general public. As in patents, the purpose of copyright is to encourage invention and creativity by affording the original creator a chance to exclusively profit from her artistic or scientific contribution. But society has an interest in restricting the duration of such patents and copyrights.

    Patents are being abused by big pharmaceuticals companies; patent protection should be limited to 15 years, with compulsory licensing to generic manufacturers thereafter; so-called copycat drugs which are created not for medical necessity but only to artificially extend patent protection should be banned.

    Copyrights on creative works should be cut back to 28 years, as they were for at least the first 40 years of the existence of the United States. 28 years is long enough for the original author to earn exclusive profit from her creation; if any additional extension beyond that is permitted, it should be only to prevent distribution in a way that harms the artistic integrity of the original, but no further royalties should be paid after 28 years.

    It is contemptible for wealthy patent and copyright holders to be forcing their way into trade expansion talks, to the point where the great bulk of agreements currently being negotiated or fast-tracked in secret, without the ongoing involvement of democratically elected legislators and the general public, are devoted not to tariff reductions or to extending the reach of unionization, worker safety and minimum wages and pension standards into third-world countries but to forcing countries to make patent and copyright provisions into a near-perpetual monopoly. Trade agreements should be called trade agreements. Monopoly extension agreements should be properly called as such, and individual countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia, France, Russia, Germany, etc. should be strong enough to immediately publish the proposed text and firmly say no to any monopoly extension proposal before it it too late.

    Erik Pedersen
  • "useful objects"

    So, does the author explain how software got around the Constitutional prohibition of copyright protection for "useful articles?"
    Patent protection, yes, but how does software qualify for copyright protection? No interpretation is needed, plain English, useful articles are specifically exempt.