Wednesday, February 17, 2010

ACTA...wasthat? and why it matters

Well, the New York Times finally covered what is arguably the most important tech/film/net/future/etc story going on in the world (a close second to the Google/Authors Guild proposed rip-off) yet I'm not seeing much about it in the blogs and tweets I follow from the film world. That's bad news, because this is something every filmmaker should be aware of, as well as anyone who is interested in the future of content online. Or the future of the net, really, and that should be everyone. So what the heck is ACTA and what can you do about it?

I know, I know, these policy things make your head hurt. Mine does too, and this one is a doozy. ACTA, or the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Haven't heard of it? That's because you aren't supposed to know about it. It's a top secret negotiation between major countries to combat counterfeiting. You're probably thinking well, piracy and counterfeiting are bad, so what? Well, there's lots of arguments against that view, but even with it, it's a pretty big concern when major countries meet in secret, with no democratic input, about possible rules which could forever change how we access content online. Guess what....your needs as a little indie producer/consumer probably aren't on the list. But you can bet those of the MPAA are, and knowing how like the RIAA they've become, you can bet their proposals amount to breaking the net to preserving their business model.

These talks are secret, you know, like the ones you kept when you were twelve, so details are scant, but there's been leaks and they've have included some doozies.

Wired reported on the proposal: "If ratified, many suggest it would criminalize peer-to-peer file sharing, subject iPods to border searches and allow internet service providers to monitor their customers’ communications."

The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) writes: "ACTA has several features that raise significant potential concerns for consumers’ privacy and civil liberties, for innovation and the free flow of information on the Internet, legitimate commerce, and for developing countries’ ability to choose policy options that best suit their domestic priorities and level of economic development." Read more of why you should care about this here.

BoingBoing reports  "That ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger, since hiring enough lawyers to ensure that the mountain of material uploaded every second isn't infringing will exceed any hope of profitability."

and: "That the whole world must adopt US-style "notice-and-takedown" rules that require ISPs to remove any material that is accused -- again, without evidence or trial -- of infringing copyright. This has proved a disaster in the US and other countries, where it provides an easy means of censoring material, just by accusing it of infringing copyright."

Public Knowledge has summed it up here, and here's my edited version of their concerns:

"The biggest concern with ACTA is that there has been very little transparency regarding its substance and the process that is putting it into place." ... "What is more disconcerting is that the leaked discussion paper seems to heavily reflect the wish lists provided in the comments from the industry groups. Also, ACTA is being negotiated outside forums such as WIPO were the negotiation would be more open."

"A second major concern with ACTA’s very nature is that it is being designed as an “executive agreement,” rather than as a “treaty.” Executive agreements do not require Congressional approval before they may take effect. As a result, there is little to keep the signatories accountable to the public, especially in an election year that will see the departure of the current executive."

"A third major concern with ACTA is that it will be used to “policy launder” its most contested provisions, whatever they may turn out to be. Policy laundering is the use of international treaties or other agreements to justify the passage of controversial legislation within one’s own country. The idea is that, once there is an international agreement committing the US to certain policies, there will be greater leverage applied on US legislators to make those policies a reality. This process was used in the passage of the DMCA in 1998 and is ably described in the ACTA context here."

Wow, that's a lot to digest, right? Why does this matter to filmmakers? Well, as BoingBoing noted above, this could seriously hamper services that many of us are using to get our films out. People have a hard time imagining that something like YouTube could disappear, but it could, or at least be radically changed. It could also impact fair use - if someone claims you use a clip illegally, your film gets removed even faster than now, and you have to fight (wit lawyers and $) the charge. Most importantly though, as I mentioned before, it's being done in secret and reportedly to the likings of industry groups like the MPAA. Make no mistake, they see the writing on the digital wall, and it's not (just) piracy they are worried about, but their increasing inability to control content and its delivery. This law is arguably another tool to constrain the free-flow/access to content and keep it under their control, Maybe, but since it's secret, we don't know....

What the heck can you do about it? Well, first, you can tell your Senators that you want this to be out in the open, you know, like democracy should work. EFF has a page where you can do just that. Believe it or not, this actually can work. Really - you'd be surprised, but Senators don't hear from their constituents much about such policy. They hear a lot about abortion and how they've become fools, but not much about this, so any email/mail moves the needle.

Second, and I think most importantly, you can just help spread the word. Yes, the New York freakin' Times covered it (and Boing-Boing), but we now live in a splintered world where if it doesn't reach your Twitter feed you aren't likely to read about it. People need to learn that this is even going on at all. Tell everyone you know. Yes, getting active takes work, but sending them to Public Knowledge (which is where I got the logo on this story) or EFF is a start. Donating to them so they can do the work for us is even better. Demanding that our film organizations, you know, that supposedly represent us, take action on our behalf would be another great step.  But, if you care about this stuff, you've got to take a little time to get active.

1 comment:

Beats Producer said...

From the Boing Boing article cited: "That ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger."
It's funny that the 3 properties mentioned are all owned by Google, which certainly has enough clout worldwide to fight back against this kind of thing. Then again, they have rolled over in the past at the behest of other ridiculous demands (e.g., China's censorship).