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.

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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been paying attention will note that France, the first country to pass such a law, known there as HADOPI, has already repealed it on the basis that the penalties it provided were disproportionate.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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