This piece is derived from a talk I gave at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts. So, it is a bit more "talky" than my other articles. I have had some appreciation about just how it captures the issues, and the US influence. Hope you find it interesting
My name is John August, Treasurer of Pirate Party Australia; I've stood for the last Federal election as a NSW Senate Candidate. I made some speeches, both generally and on intellectual property, at the last election - On Intellectual Property and The Pirate Party Generally.
I'm looking at Intellectual Property. There's an earlier article - this one repeats some material, but is also rather more comprehensive.
Intellectual Property is mostly about Patents and Copyright, but there's a lot more to it, including Trademarks and the international scene. I'll be getting to Patents first - but in the meantime, here's the contents :
Intellectual Property was - maybe - how investors be motivated to invest, and then protect their investment. But, if this was ever the case, intellectual property(IP), is much more an excuse for corporations to flex their muscles and intrude into our lives. Property rights should empower us as individuals if they are worth having at all, but corporations are building fences inside our private lives.
While I don't want to overstate it, Pirate Party Australia has policies that challenge these trends, and quite apart from whether you vote for us, we try to build up awareness about it both generally and politically.
Patents are a license to be the sole manufacturer - or licensee - of an invention. Transfer of ownership has meant the price of epipens - used to treat allergic reactions - skyrocketed. They were first developed for the US military so soldiers could administer nerve gas antidotes, but somewhere along the way owners were able to dramatically increase the price. Notionally there were improvements, but it seems the profits were still extreme and the increases difficult to justify - perhaps you could have retained a cheaper basic version.
For all the criticisms of the US military, they gave us the internet and one set of GPS satellites, without charge. For sure, a lot of money is wasted in the US military. But, somehow, this innovation was lost in the morass of private contracts and IP sales within private industry.
Notionally a Patent means the initial investor gets a return, but their on-selling undermines this notion. Patent trolls hold patents and hunt for infringers to sue, which is one step better than a manufacturer who obtains a monopoly by accident and then extracts monopoly profits. Patents promise to protect the inventor in the back shed, but in fact the dominant use is by large corporations to lock out the competition, giving them greater market control, quite apart from patent trolls and opportunistic buyers. They become the plaything of large firms, having a stock of patents sitting on the shelf for devices that will never ever be made. The pirate party believe patents should only be used to protect a business operation that is actively supplying the market.
Locally there has been controversy over testing for the BRCA1 gene. And internationally there has also been a case around inventions making Covid-19 tests, including attempts to hold up sales, rather than seek compensation after the sales have been made - though it seems to me the claims were pretty dodgy all along.
Long ago, the ruling class in the UK saw patents as a compromise the state made reluctantly, a bribe paid to entice people into innovating for everyone's benefit. IP was never a "right" - never a recognition of an innate entitlement, but rather a "privilege" granted as part of a that deal. However, there's since been a dramatic turn-around. It's now seen as a right, and rather than innovation being sought after, holders covet their assets and lobby for help and protection from the Government - and it has - by degrees and over decades - caved in to their demands.
In theory, denying innovators these returns might reduce innovation. But it has never been consumers, rather corporations have pushed for it. If we as consumers ever saw a drought of innovation, then we might well push to increase it. But that has never happened. Patent holders patronisingly block us from what we supposedly miss out on, because they know what's best for us. They deny us the freedom to lead our lives and participate in decisions about what the world around us should be like.
An important issue is repairing vehicles. Farmers have found companies trying to stop them from repairing their own equipment. Most notably, there's been Caterpillar and John Deere in the US.
But there's also repair and modification more generally of farm and non-farm vehicles. One cover story is the prevention of rebirthing, and also concerns about us hurting ourselves and others, but I think there's over-reach.
If you own something, you should have the right to do with it what you will. Perhaps to save money, or make an environmental stand. Sure, if you're selling something that's legitimately covered by someone else's patent or copyright, that's an issue. But fundamentally, this is where it should start. I think it's a part of what it means to be a human being.
Yes, you could injure yourself. We need to embrace the dignity of risk, and accept responsibility in such a way that corporations do not get sued as a result of our actions - as compared to their own, when it comes to things like negligence. We can have regulations to ensure that vehicles have been checked before they are driven on the road, but that's something for the state to determine separately to corporations. I think firms hide behind safety in order to maximise profits. Still, while we should prevent corporate over-reach, at the same time, we have an obligation to take all efforts to follow the legitimate directions of manufacturers in dealing with their equipment.
In repairing it ourselves, we might void the warranty or even be in breach of the law or perhaps accidentally block an ongoing need for access to the internet. Worse case, there might be booby traps that gratuitiously brick it - totally stop it from every working again - if we fiddle with it. These are things we need to stop.
If we pay someone to repair something, and the cost is rather less than the price of a new equivalent, everyone wins. But if products are difficult to repair, or we find ourselves being unwillingly pushed into buying replacements - that's very wrong. Apart from repairs, there's maintenance. If you want to tinker with your car on the weekend, I think that's fair enough. If you'd rather spend time driving your car than maintaining it, it will make sense to pay someone else to, and it's a win-win.
Between business and Government, they're very selective about where they encourage the economy to grow, quite apart from letting property bubbles inflate. It's fine if people throw something out before they need to, but we in the pirate party see worth in getting more use out of something both we personally and society at large have already invested in.
To be fair - Government has looked into forcing manufacturers to share their service information with more repairers - but they've left out individual consumers, and have not really engaged with the broader issues. You should be equally free to hire someone you prefer or fix is yourself, whatever your preference might be. I've discussed the issue with Lesley Yates of the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association in a radio show, here.
The laws around the "right to repair" are currently in contest in Australia. There have also been right to repair laws implemented in the US.
If a business is trying to stop another from helping us, I see a restraint of trade. If relevant information is copyrighted, that further muddies the water. Some information may be in the open, but important information, vital for repair, may be restricted, like the availability of diagnostic equipment and related information. Still, even all information must be shared equally, including third party repairers, corporations may in fact not release it to anyone, with their own staff being like puppets under control of the puppeteers back at head office - something we need to prevent.
Firms like Apple have abused their stranglehold on repair. Further, they also try to get consumers to buy replacements instead of make repairs. Louis Rothman in the US has reviewed how minimal repairable faults are used as excuses to justify replacement; there have been cases where an item considered "lost" by Apple has been repaired by Rothman for free. He also talks about how Apple make it difficult for third party repairers, but he nevertheless manages to make a go of it.
Apple is overpriced, obnoxious about repair, and take advantage of their customers' emotional investment. Still, they take security and privacy more seriously, and will never share your details. Here's an analogy. Apple sells you a safe. However, you can't use standard fittings to install it, and have to hire Apple certified tradies, but they do eventually install it. Then, they give you a key. And they tell you that if you lose that key, not apple, not the police, not anyone will be able to open that safe for you.
Looking at another firm, Microsoft claims to be environmental, but make laptops that are difficult to repair.
Not so much products and their repairability, someone was sent to jail for copying Microsoft disks. While MS did not initiate the legal process, they certainly cheered it along. Rothmann talks about how the impact was overstated and the judge went along with it because he had no appreciation of the technological details.
Separately to Intellectual Property and the law, firms can still behave obnoxiously. There's planned obsolescence and designs which make repair impractical or impossible. You might be unable to replace the bulb in a light fitting. There's the story of a cartel of light bulb manufacturers between the wars who agreed to limit the life of bulbs.
There's also steering you towards new purchases. There was a time when we purchased the newest mobile phone merely because it was the newest mobile phone. That's since waned. Perhaps you've received calls from over-enthusiastic phone company employees, wanting to put you onto a new plan which will supposedly save you money, while neglecting to mention that if you go for a "simm only" where you keep your mobile phone, you'll save even more money. There are other games being played.
Ideally, competition and consumer awareness should mean firms who make repairable goods prosper. But there's other issues. Companies may not bother to compete in this arena, because they're all on a good wicket. At its worst, consumers could never have done anything about the light bulb cartel. But also, it is hard to stay aware of what good quality repairable items are out there.
There's the availability of spares. Companies may try to stop others from selling knock-offs, problematic in its way. But, then they may stop providing spares, leaving customers marooned. Maybe they used the law to stop knock-offs, but maybe they didn't and nobody could be bothered. They're happy to sell cars while there's a profit, but later leave owners stranded. I understand that's why there's an obligation for manufacturers to provide spares for a number of years after the car is no longer sold. That's not about ensuring others can copy them - its about ensuring the original manufacturer continues to supply them.
In fact, we'll see issues around the sudden withdrawl of support from firms - when it's needed to use the product - in other areas - where ownership has become something different. Needless to say, if firms were gracious enough to publish their plans for anyone who has a 3D printer to print their own, that would be great.
There's also so called "technical protection measures", and firms try to make it illegal to circumvent the blocks they put on their products, undermining what it means to own something and marginalising our right to repair. We're not talking about making knock-offs and selling them, and it undermines our sovereignty.
At the extreme, there was the so called Sony BMG rootkit scandal, where Sony music CDs installed a compromising program in our computers to prevent copying - not only something done without our consent, but something that left back doors open that let malicous hackers in. The law allows companies to do this - but all too often, do not let people repair what they own.
I identify several different types of product - consumables, appliances and high value items. For consumables, things like bulbs might really be impractical to repair. But for other items, they might be repairable in principle - like the replacement of jug elements or the soles of shoes, where the design might stop you.
If something is not seen as reliable, when it breaks down you'll be more inclined to buy another brand. So, while you need the perception of reliability, corporations want you to buy a replacement before the old one has worn out. If you damage it, that's an excuse, and I wonder if Apple have tried to manage perceptions to steer people into thinking something has been damaged rather than worn out. In some cases perhaps they've made products more fragile and made this excuse more readily available.
But, equally, there are cheap appliances which aren't really branded, and are only available for a short time, after which they evaporate. They weren't actively trying to stop you making repairs, but without any trace you're not going to find any spares either. We need to be more aware of this possibility.
At the other end of the scale, there are high value items like cars and farm equipment - you'll want to maintain them, and not throw them out, but the manufacturer may have other ideas.
At this point I'll note a researcher I've drawn on for insights into international affairs, Professor Clinton Fernandes of the Canberra campus of the University of NSW. Professor Fernandes has had a long term interest in Timor Leste, and was a consultant to the film Balibo. But he has also been interested in Australian foreign relations, including its dark underside. He's written a book, "Island off the coast of Asia", which goes into these details. He also wrote a book looking the Wikileaks US cables, "What Uncle Sam Wants". It's a lot easier to absorb, as compared to drinking from a fire hose and trying to read the original cables.
I've discussed these issues with Professor Fernandes on radio
I'm including here either direct quotes or close paraphrases of that Wikileaks material.
The US Government agressively supports the interests of US corporations overseas. US departments emphasise "security" of profits in a similar way to how regular departments might emphasise, well, regular security. It seems to go both ways - not only do corporations push the US Government, at times, the US Government will suggest possibilities to them.
Pfizer formed a team to crackdown on counterfeit Viagra production in Asia, and US cables from China report that Apple in 2008 hired them to target copying of their software. The thing is, perhaps the Government in fact made the original suggestion.
In Quito, Ecuador, the Government was adopting populist measures in "trying to exert further control over drug prices and company profits." It had earlier considered a draft law to reduce the maximum profit drug companies could make. The US Embassy went into bat, reporting that "after complaints from the industry and discussions with Embassy officers, the Government of Ecuador backed off from that initiative." This initiative would have hit both local and overseas drug producers, and so was not a restraint on trade, and was a genuine attempt to reduce the costs of medicines. The Embassy observed that "any effort to lower drug prices would be viewed favorably by many" and the government "could use all the popular support it can get. Thus, populist concerns could win the day."
Apart from corporate computer programs, there are Open Source programs like linux. There's a lot more to the picture, but you can think of it as community software, effectively free, though the qualifier has been been to think of "free" as in free speech, not free beer. You'd think that in the market, people would be free to choose between community and corporate software as they saw fit. But, that's not what the US Government wanted.
The US has acted both generally to get its IP regeime recognised overseas, and also on behalf of individual companies. I think this is partly because there's an ideological slant towards corporations, but also because the dollars can be more readily identified and attached to a corporation. Now, while you'd think open source would not be in direct conflict with commercial software, with the problem being "illegally copied software" rather than open source as such, in fact open source software has suffered collateral damage as a result.
Quite apart from Australia, it's a big world - US embassies have been on hand to help US corporations gain a stranglehold on intellectual property all around the world - in countries you might expect - like China - but also places you might not - including Ecuador as I've mentioned, but also Brazil, Tunisia, Nigeria, and Vietnam - as I'll now outline. Certainly, this is of less relevance to we Australians, but it puts a spotlight on some of the bizzare stuff the US has been up to, something I think we should at least be aware of, if not concerned about.
A US Embassy described a "massive problem of Internet piracy" in China as well as campaigns by China's National Anti-Pornography and Anti-Piracy Office to crack down on infringers and shut down websites. It works with the Business Software Alliance to monitor the use and procurement of government software. At least, it did in the times covered by the Wikileaks cables, but things have probably changed with the developing US-China cold war at the time of writing.
The president of Microsoft Brazil asked the US Ambassador for help with what he described as the "antagonistic Government of Brazil.". He complained that Brazil's Foreign Ministry had pressured the Brazilian Technical Standards Agency to favor the Open Document Format, which is an open source file format. Microsoft, naturally, wanted its own proprietary software to be bought. The Microsoft executive said, he was in possession of unsigned letters from the Foreign Ministry to various foreign governments "requesting that the governments work together to support only the open source ODF as the international standard." This was "ideological" and "a manifestation of anti-Americanism" within the Foreign Ministry, he alleged, naming those he thought were involved.
The Ambassador agreed, and suggested Microsoft contact Brazilian companies "to put this issue high on the agenda of the Chief Executive Officer Forum meetings." He believed a "multi-industry push for a strategy that allows for Congressional debate ... will certainly yield better results than Microsoft fighting this issue alone."
Microsoft wanted what it had obtained the previous year in Tunisia, which agreed to buy 12,000 licenses to update government computers with official Microsoft software. Tunisia had previously adopted an open software policy.
Microsoft would also train Tunisian government officials in the Ministries of Justice and Interior on how to use computers and the internet to fight crime. Here, the Embassy had misgivings; in a later cable, it reported that "Tunisia is a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems." The President and his regime "have lost touch with the Tunisian people. They tolerate no advice or criticism, whether domestic or international. Increasingly, they rely on the police for control and focus on preserving power." Nevertheless, the US ultimately supported this initiative. The leak would be associated with a popular revolution there in December 2010, continuing the so-called "Arab Spring" that began in October when protests in Western Sahara were crushed by Moroccan troops.
The cables describe how a key component of Apple's plan is close cooperation with China's Public Security Bureau. China was "particularly sensitive" to public health and safety issues after the use of lead-based paint in toys and unsafe Heparin (an anti-coagulant blood thinner.) The plan for Apple would be to draw attention to a safety angle like shoddy devices causing fire hazards.
Since Chinese-made counterfeit goods are often exported overseas, other US Embassies joined in. In Nigeria, for example, US Consulate staff visited the Otigba Street Ikeja Computer Village with Microsoft Nigeria's Account Manager to gain an understanding of the volume of the traffic in pirated goods, and pursed the issue with the Nigerian Government.
In Algeria, Microsoft's country Director-General told the Embassy that its financial bottom line and growth potential were being harmed by Algeria's weak IP protection.
Microsoft officials and representatives of an industry association established by Microsoft met US diplomats to discuss IP in Vietnam. Microsoft was "frustrated" but committed to finding ways to engage the government to prioritize IP. The Embassy, for its part, assured them they told Vietnamese government officials at every level that "strong IPR is a critical factor attracting foreign direct investment, not only in the IT sector but also across the board." The Embassy resolved to "do everything we can to encourage and support" the Vietnamese government to make comprehensive use of legitimate software. Three years later, Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer and Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung witnessed a landmark agreement committing all Vietnamese government agencies to use licensed software.
American international corporate power includes control over labor unions, defense of intellectual property rights, and favorable tax arrangements. IP is a part of this picture, but also "having the market sewn up" in a broader sense together with brand loyalty.
Typically, the headquarters, design and engineering departments are in one country, the manufacturing facilities elsewhere, and the finance and sales departments in still another country. This means an estimated 80% of all international trade is simply the movement of intermediate goods and services between different arms of the same company over international borders.
The objective is to declare profits in the lowest possible tax jurisdiction while locating production where the most favorable combination of labor costs, workforce skills, infrastructure, and logistics can be found. Strangely, you'd think that the US Government would want to maximise it own tax revenue, rather than facilitate tax evasion. But it seems this is what they do.
The Apple iPhone is illustrative. Apple buys its components from more than 200 suppliers around the world. A Taiwanese firm, Hon Hai Precision Industry, performs final assembly. Hon Hai employs Chinese workers through a subsidiary, Foxconn, in Chinese factories. Apple sells the components to Foxconn. One of Foxconn's factories is more than two square miles in size and employs as many as 350,000 workers who assemble up to 500,000 iPhones a day. The phones are boxed and moved through a bonded zone, with iPhones headed for the domestic (Chinese) market designated as "exports" in the customs facility and immediately redesignated as "imports," allowing Chinese customs to collect a 17% value-added tax based on the "import" price.
Apple assigns part of its profits to its own affiliate in Ireland, where it pays less tax. Hon Hai made profit from the final assembly (US$2.6 billion in 2011) but Apple profits almost 13 times more (US$33 billion) from owning the intellectual property contained in the proprietary design, together with their marketing and other add-ons.
To recap, this all relies on control of labor, favorable tax arrangements - and also - enforcement of intellectual property rights.
Now, in principle you have international free trade, comparative advantage and so forth. But, to me this sort of thing seems to be about manipulations rather than any of the notional positives which might result. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, in my view, focused on the ability of corporations to protect their assets and investments, rather than trade, and did not consider the goal of seeing intellectual property as motivating activities that would benefit everyone. The incentive for international trade and investments seemed to be something that trumped all other parts of the story of capitalism.
But, just as we can see the international economic abuses, I have a suspicion that these negatives were seen locally in the US, and were one of the things that led to Trump's win. Much as we might say our economy has problems, a qualified economist in the Pirate Party sees the US as a rent-seekers paradise.
When the US does trade treaties, what they are doing for the most part are getting foreign nations to recognise their IP regeime in exchange for those countries being able to export their goods to the US. Now, this might well result in a total increase in the wealth of the US, accepting some of the ideas of comparative advantage, in a rough and ragged broad brush sort of way. But, beneath that total increase, what they did was transfer wealth from the people who make things with their hands to the people who own ideas.
While there would have been a lot of factors at work behind Trump's election win, I suspect the lived experience of people who make things with their hands would mean that while they were taken advantage of by employers, they nevertheless had an intuitive understanding of the economic undertow resulting from these so called "free trade" treaties.
In fact, partly because the US strongarmed us, we supported the developing international intellectual property framework, even though it's a net cost to us. This was identified historically by economists in Government at the time. It might surprise you, in the age of Economic Rationalism and economists trotted out to support vested interests, but at times economists were the only people at the table pointing to injustices.
On paper, you're only recognising the legimitate interests of legitimate investors, but in reality - there's a lot of wiggle room, and choices to be made. Things were set under US pressure to support US interests. Bob Hawke has been attributed as saying "The US supports free trade - in theory". Prof. Fernandes has gone into how - on the part of the US and UK - their endorsement of free trade was more dependent on them having the upper hand rather than really believing in it.
Our then Bureau of Mineral Resources did a coastal survey and gave away the information to mineral companies. In Norway, they nationalised the extraction and put the money into a future fund. Now, for all you might say about the supposed inefficiencies of government, the Norwegians clearly got the better deal. We just gave the information to minerals companies, much as Treasury wanted remuneration. But, perhaps the motivation was to bribe companies into investing in Australia, rather than stopping and thinking about how we could maximise Australia's benefit.
At the time, we were living in the shadow of the cold war and the Soviet Union, and we would do just about anything to pump up our corner of the Western economy. You can wonder if they really believed it, or they were captured by the corporations, and looking for excuses to do them favours.
A sentiment at the time ( Shadow Valley and the Iron Triangles ) was :
How long will we be free after the red cancer of communism has eaten its way through Asia?
Just try it ...
You may be beaten, tortured, even shot. Made to sing "The East is Red".
... And you know, there's only one colour on the red flag.
Now, let's change gear and consider copyright. Locally, the copyright owners of "Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree" sued the band "Men at Work" for infringement.
Quite apart from whether holding copyright in that way was ever the intention of the original writer of the song, Marion Sinclair, who has since passed away, we can wonder if the claimed copy was ever that significant, with it quite possibly happening by accident - with the cost of the court case being larger than the settlement. Further, one band member feels that the court case had some part to play in another band member going off the rails and two people ultimately dying early possibly from related stress. Is this a way to protect art? Creating a situation where artists can be sued at any time because something they've made slightly resembles one of millions of other artistic works?
Just as I've said the promise of Patents might have been to protect the inventor in the back shed, bands are chewed up and spat out by the major record labels, rather than copyright meaningfully protecting individual performers. And I know of bands who see no point in coveting their audio sales, rather relying on live performances to sustain themselves.
Some performers have made a go of being independent of the large record labels. Barking Pumpkins ... and Nine Inch Nails who released their Ghosts album creative commons. To be sure, they were already established. And some smaller record labels do try to do the right thing. But it is certainly of concern. In contrast, most authors have a reasonably good relationship with their publisher, though Stephen King - already established - tried to go it alone.
After they made the film "Forrest Gump", they asked the author about making a sequel. He refused, saying he "cannot in good conscience allow money to be wasted on a failure". Forrest Gump made no money? Well, it did, which is why they wanted to make a sequel. But because of Creative Accounting - also called "hollywood accounting" - at least on paper, it didn't.
Hollywood is known for ... well, Hollywood, or creative, accounting. It's not about the numbers creatively not adding up, it was a contrast between the creativity of the directors, producers and actors in Hollywood as compared to the creativity of the accountants, who created businesses which charged higher than market rates to the business entity making the movie so that it did not make a profit, even though, more broadly the film did. There's a saying that "no Hollywood film ever makes a profit". This is the dark underside of the industry. There's still a distributed profit, so doesn't totally avoid tax - but it does mean that creative partners - include perhaps actors and writers - are denied their fair share. You see it in John D. MacDonald's novel "Free Fall in Crimson" :
Darling! This is the Industry! The really creative people are the accountants. A big studio got over half the profit, after setting breakeven at about three times the cost, taking twenty-five percent of income as an overhead charge, and taking thirty percent of income as a distribution charge, plus rental fees, and prime interest on what they advanced.
And this is Hollywood, that so resents people who copy films, claiming it's like stealing a car, when they have no qualms about diddling people on their side of the fence? Of course, copyright infringement is not like stealing a car, because stealing a car means you stop someone else from using it. It is more like downloading a new car. In fact, this sort of thing goes on all the time. Most of the time intellectual property is a tool used by corporations to put one over us.
The US extended copyright to the death of the author plus 75 years in order to retain Mickey Mouse's copyright. The Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 is known derisively as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, and there was an attempt to include it in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Partially, corporate over-reach, but rather more narkily - one goal was to keep money in the US as compared to overseas. This overlooked the whole point of copyright, not to mention that corporations would disproportionately benefit.
Copyright is justified in it providing an incentive for more creative works that we will all benefit from, because they have the ability to gain monopoly profits for a period. However, it is difficult to believe that your estate continuing to benefit for a few extra decades after you pass away would mean you'd take your creations more seriously. It was more about existing asset holders protecting the continued value of their assets.
Rather than prompting the development of additional material, if anything, it limited it. Partly because the ability to make derivative works was curtailed, but also because they ended up dominating the cultural sphere - not just through intellectual property, but by growing large enough to become the big hairy gorilla.
What does it mean to own something? There's the first sale doctrine - the idea that you can sell, rent or otherwise deal with a book or other item after it has been sold to you. Digital Rights Management, however - also derisively known as Digital Restrictions Management - makes it impossible make direct digital copies.
Digital copies are easier than copying a book. And a photocopy would never have the same bound feel as the book. Still, it was possible to copy part of a book in fair dealing, if you did not profit from it. That's cut out by DRM. Further DRM has segmented the global market, much as corporations pursue globalisation when it suits. This means you cannot travel internationally and easily play your collection. There was a time when - I think it was the ACCC - said it would be legal to sell region-free DVD players in Australia. It was not the Government's job to make such things illegal.
However, DRM of itself does not violate the first sale doctrine. If you could on-sell DRM licenses like you can shares, that would make them more like a book or CD.
Firms might cancel access to material you have previously paid for, something Microsoft are known to have done. Rather than having independent ownership as with a book, you are subservient to the corporation, an echo of the problems with availability of spare parts. It's a betrayal of trust. If you're sold something, there's a reasonable expectation that it's "in perpetuity". Its not like books you purchase can vanish from your bookshelf when the publisher hires a magician to cast a very serious broad ranging spell. Of course, in principle abuses by corporations will be held to account by consumers, with boycotts and so on. Well, maybe. Not something to rely on. In some instances, some firms will do the right thing. But, ultimately, many will not.
Of course, this is about direct copying of the file. You could always video a screen or record audio from a speaker - and even take multiple copies and average them out to reduce noise. It's a nuisance, but it can be done. Whatever the technological barriers, they can only make it harder to make a good copy - they cannot make it impossible.
Now, in contrast to intellectual property, I'm going to consider physical property - the land. Property in land is something that we're supposed to own and control regardless of others. The Australian the film "The Castle" captures this idea. Still, property ownership does come with obligations. If water leaks out of your unit, you're liable for it though you may be insured.
But legally speaking, property ownership's history is muddled. Private property has been in tension with common property, or the commons, something researched by David Bollier, a US activist and author. The UK had its "enclosures" act, which took common land and gave it to individuals. Some claim this provided incentives to improve otherwise unproductive land, like swampland, assuming that you're not concerned about the pre-existing environment. Still, even if this was ever true, a Pirate economist tells me that at present, land is locked up in unproductive uses, in any case betraying this promise - included in the show here.
Another story is enclosures dispossed commoners, denying them their *till then* existing rights to sustain themselves on the land. Bollier talks about how notions of land ownership conflicted with prior social networks and understandings. A poem from around 1764, noted in Bollier's book Silent Theft, captures the sentiment :
They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
That steals the common from the goose.
The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.
The poor and wretched don't escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.
Bollier sees "enclosures" as not just turning common land into private property, but also taking concepts and ideas which were public and turning them into something private. A set of words can be used by everyone; but as a trademark, only those firms that own the words can use them; they have been "enclosed", and taken from the public domain.
Supposedly a firm's trade mark means we are not confused, but as long as we know something's a knock off, how is this a problem? Was the protection of trade marks really for our benefit, or the firms? They've gone way past just trying to stop forgeries. Matell made sure a book on anorexia did not have "Barbie" in its title, and there are numerous cases of other firms trying to clamp down on what are legitimate, creative critiques.
Bollier sees the "commons" in recent technological developments, the Internet, and open source technologies - what I've called "community software" - such as such Linux - are an example of a collaborative common, a pool of information from which all can drink freely, where nobody privately owns what is generated. He also notes how businesses can make profits by accessing the commons, but never through appropriating it.
Our approach has been criticised by some artists, who see their accumulated content as something which continues to yield an income, which would be lost, much as they are often at the mercy of large corporations who pass on a pittance.
I host a community radio show, Roving Spotlight, broadcasting on Radio Skid Row Marrickville. If you search on soundcloud, there's interviews I've done with Professor Clinton Fernandes on intellectual property and Timor Leste ( noted earlier ) and Professor Leanne Wiseman of Griffith University commenting on the right to repair and farming in particular. There's also Mark Gibbons from the Pirate Party, on economics and the US and also copyright.
Also, I'm a spoken word and poetry performer. Maybe I'm an amateur, in some way different to the "real" artists who have built up their mound of treasure. But maybe that's exactly the point. It reminds me of the unions that stood up for semi skilled labour, but couldn't give a toss about unskilled labour. Yes, if you're an artist that has put together your mound of treasure, that's one thing. But not all of us will be so fortunate.
Many artists are highly sceptical or the current system, and have been involved in the Pirate Party and the development of its policy. Apart from intellectual property, the Pirate Party promotes the generation of culture for us all, so producers and consumers can all win, without the need to ever covet that mound of treasure.
We incorporate a Universal Basic Income , so you can pursue your creative outlet regardless. You don't have to struggle until you've made it. Your rights - to remix, to create, to combine - to own and control your cars and CDs - to repair and alter as you see the need - these rights, we embrace.
The Pirate Party has a range of policies in many different areas. Intellectual Property, though, is not a battle conducted over there at the periphery, there are very real abuses that effect our lives, and the government policy has so for been dominated by vested interests. I'd like to think that concerns about IP are gaining broader traction with the general community, particularly as more perverse consequences become better known, along with the capture of Government policy by vested interests.