Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Vera Franz posted:

[from http://www.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=03/12/16/187234 ]

RMS covers WSIS

The World Summit on the Information Society is supposed to formulate
plans to end the "digital divide" and make the internet accessible to
everyone on Earth. The negotiations were completed in November, so
the big official meeting in Geneva last week was more of a trade show
and conference than a real summit meeting.

The summit procedures were designed so that non-governmental
organizations (mainly those that promote human rights and equality,
and work to reduce poverty) could attend, see the discussions, and
comment. However, the actual declaration paid little attention to
the comments and recommendations that these organizations made. In
effect, civil society was offered the chance to speak to a dead mike.

The summit's declaration includes little that is bold or new. When
it comes to the question of what people will be free to do with the
Internet, it responds to demands made by various governments to
impose restrictions on citizens of cyberspace.

Part of the digital divide comes from artificial obstacles to the
sharing of information. This includes the licenses of non-free
software, and harmfully restrictive copyright laws. The Brazilian
declaration sought measures to promote free software, but the US
delegation was firmly against it (remember that the Bush campaign got
money from Microsoft). The outcome was a sort of draw, with the
final declaration presenting free software, open source, and
proprietary software as equally legitimate. The US also insisted on
praising so-called "intellectual property rights." (That biased term
promotes simplistic over-generalization; for the sake of clear
thinking about the issues of copyright law, and about the very
different issues of patent law, that term should always be avoided.)

The declaration calls on governments to ensure unhindered access to
the public domain, but says nothing about whether any additional
works should ever enter the public domain.

Human rights were given lip service, but the proposal for a "right to
communicate" (not merely to access information) using the Internet
was shot down by many of the countries. The summit has been
criticized for situating its 2005 meeting in Tunisia, which is a
prime example of what the information society must not do. People
have been imprisoned in Tunisia for using the Internet to criticize
the government.

Suppression of criticism has been evident here at the summit too. A
counter-summit, actually a series of talks and discussions, was
planned for last Tuesday, but it was shut down by the Geneva police,
who clearly were searching for an excuse to do so. First they
claimed that the landlord did not approve use of the space, but the
tenant who has a long-term lease for the space then arrived and said
he had authorized the event. So the police cited a fire code
violation which I'm told is applicable to most buildings in Geneva --
in effect, an all-purpose excuse to shut down anything. Press
coverage of this maneuver eventually forced the city to allow the
counter-summit to proceed on Wednesday in a different location.

In a more minor act of suppression, the moderator of the official
round table in which I spoke told me "your time is up" well before
the three minutes each participant was supposed to have. She later
did the same thing to the EPIC representative. I later learned that
she works for the International Chamber of Commerce -- no wonder she
silenced us. And how telling that the summit would put a
representative of the ICC at the throttle when we spoke.

Suppression was also visible in the exclusion of certain NGOs from
the summit because their focus on human rights might embarrass the
governments that trample them. For instance, the summit refused to
accredit Human Rights In China, a group that criticizes the Chinese
government for (among other things) censorship of the internet.

Reporters Without Borders was also excluded from the summit. To
raise awareness of their exclusion, and of the censorship of the
Internet in various countries, they set up an unauthorized radio
station in nearby France and handed out mini-radios so that summit
attendees could hear what the organization had been blocked from
saying at the summit itself.

The summit may have a few useful side effects. For instance, several
people came together to plan an organization to help organizations in
Africa switch to GNU/Linux. But the summit did nothing to support
this activity beyond providing an occasion for us to meet. Nor, I
believe, was it intended to support any such thing. The overall
attitude of the summit can be seen in its having invited Microsoft to
speak alongside, and before, most of the various participating
governments -- as if to accord that criminal corporation the standing
of a state.


1. " promotes simplistic over-generalization" -

2. "imprisoned in Tunisia for using the Internet to criticize the
government" - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/2777389.stm

3. "refused to accredit Human Rights In China" -

4. "Reporters Without Borders was also excluded" -

Copyright 2003 Richard Stallman
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are
permitted without royalty in any medium provided this notice is
A Taste of Our Own Poison
A modest proposal: Hold Hollywood hostage till we kill farm subsidies.

By Lawrence Lessig


When America was poor, its citizens "stole." We took the intellectual property of Dickens and other foreign artists without paying for it. We didn't call it stealing, but they did. We called it a sensible way for a developing nation to develop. Eventually, we saw it was better to protect their rights as well as ours - better because we had rights to protect elsewhere, too. But we only imposed this burden on ourselves when it made sense to do so. Until 1891, we were a pirate nation.

Things have changed. Now that we're the world's leading exporter of intellectual property, we're also the most self-righteous about the importance of protecting it globally. Indeed, we can be vicious in our self-righteousness - threatening trade wars with developing nations for the crime of being just like us. Recently, through a series of trade agreements, we have demanded stricter protection for intellectual property internationally than US law would allow domestically. (Fair use, for example, is mandated by our constitution but invisible in these agreements.)

This push to protect intellectual property is defended as just one aspect of free trade - the aspect that benefits Hollywood. Since Adam Smith penned The Wealth of Nations, we've understood that borders are best when opened and when property from one country is respected in another. Free trade so enabled is the promised elixir for the woes of developing nations. Open your borders, protect property rights, and prosperity, the Smithies say, will quickly follow.

The dirty little secret, however, is that we don't respect the free trade rules that we impose on others. While the US sings the virtues of free trade to defend maximalist intellectual property regulation, we poison the free trade that developing nations care about most - agriculture - by subsidizing farming in the industrialized world to the tune of $300 billion annually. Rhetoric about family farmers aside, most of that money passes quickly to agribusiness. This is not Adam Smith; it is corporate welfare par excellence.

There's little developing nations can do about this - individually. But increasingly they are acting together. One group recently walked out of trade talks because agribusiness subsidies were not on the table. Others are openly discussing ways to get US attention.

What developing nations need is better lobbyists. In particular, advocates as persuasive as Hollywood's lobbyists, who've managed to defend the entertainment industry's intellectual property rights extremely well. Here's one way to get power (or the Man) on their side.

A block of powerful developing nations should first take a page from the US Copyright Act of 1790 and enact national laws that explicitly protect their own rights only. It would not protect foreigners. Second, these nations should add a provision that would relax this exemption to the extent that developed nations really opened their borders. If we reduce, for example, the subsidy to agribusiness by 10 percent, then they would permit 10 percent of our copyrights to be enforced (say, copyrights from the period 1923 to 1931). Reduce the subsidy by another 10 percent, then another 10 percent could be enforced. And so on.

The mechanism is clumsy, but the message is clear: Both the subsidy of agribusiness and the subsidy of local culture and science violate the principles of free trade by ignoring American intellectual property laws. Both violations are bad. But the two bads should be resolved together. Indeed, if anything, American subsidies should be ended first. The actual loss to US firms from piracy worldwide is not terribly high - if "actual loss" means the amount Americans would get if the piracy ended. (Would Microsoft be better off if China ended its piracy of Windows and instead used GNU/Linux - the only OS they could then afford?) But when crops grown by farmers in Peru rot in the field because the US House of Representatives cares more about agribusinesses than about Adam Smith, then there is real harm. The resentment and anger at this American hypocrisy festers as poisonously as moldering crops in the hot sun.

Of course, this solution won't work unless enough developing nations join together. But if they do, their message will have meaning. A principle is a principle. And a content industry keen to defend its "property" on the basis of that principle would then have an interest in defending principle more generally.

The world is already skeptical enough about Adam Smith's magic. Throwing hypocrisy into the bargain can't help.

Lester Thurow - Patents' Raging Bull


In Fortune Favors the Bold, MIT professor Lester Thurow - known for his "new rules for the knowledge-based economy" - says a global economy is emerging and the time to shape it is now. His formula for building lasting prosperity? A universal patent system that encourages companies to apply for more patents and prod governments into enforcement, among other things. Sounds like either a great idea or a bureaucratic nightmare of ever bigger corporations and ever bigger government.

WIRED: You want the government to buy corporate patents to encourage innovation?

THUROW: You need incentives where there's a big up-front investment. Look at the pharmas. They're putting all their efforts into developing Viagra and fat pills. No one wants to develop a cure for malaria. So let the government come in, buy the intellectual property rights for a malaria pill, and give it away.

Are more patents a good thing?

If we're really going to be the knowledge economy, you can't make it work unless you know who owns what knowledge. Take music. If they can't find some way to lock up music, music is going to end. Eventually, there will be no professional musicians, because there's no way to make money, and we're left with a world full of amateurs.

So every decent idea should have an official piece of paper behind it?

Obviously, there's a limit. I'm dubious about business patents. Dell has something like 36 patents on the supply chain. And what we did for Disney was reprehensible: They get Mickey Mouse for 75 years, and then they have the political clout to get it extended. There must be a point where copyright runs out and stuff drops into the public domain. Descendants of Shakespeare shouldn't be able to claim royalties - and they can't.

What's the enforcement component?

There are two ways to violate a patent. One is China, which doesn't have a system. The other is Israel, which has a system but doesn't enforce it. We have to figure out the dollar value and keep track of all the violations in Israel. Then we say to US companies, we'll give you carte blanche to copy that amount from Israeli companies.

Sounds like an awful lot of government.

In a globalized world, governments become more important than they used to be. You have to think of them not as air traffic controllers but as airport builders.

- Jeffrey M. O'Brien