Who are the real pirates?
With the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) gaining worldwide momentum – and resistance – it may be cause to reflect on the nature of intellectual property (IP).
What is ACTA? It’s an agreement being foisted onto the planet by the US and aims to establish an international legal framework for targeting counterfeit goods, generic medicines and copyright infringement on the internet. It would presumably join other dubious governing bodies like the World Trade Organisation and the World Health Organisation.
Australia signed ACTA without any fuss in September last year, says www.dfat.gov.au, but a lot of countries are not so eager to roll over. Demonstrations erupted across Europe after it was ratified recently in the European parliament, says The New Zealand Herald. And while the German government says it won’t back ACTA, China and India don’t even recognise IP in their judicial systems.
Mark Getty of Getty Images fame is one of the largest IP owners on the planet. He reportedly said that ‘IP is the oil of the 21st century.’ It was a sentiment very evident in Obama’s recent state of the nation address, where IP and bringing back manufacturing to the US were clearly on his agenda.
The 2007 documentary Steal This Film II points to the interesting history of IP. The film claims that with arrival of the printing press in Europe in the 1500s, information was very scarce and relatively easy to control. ‘For 1000s of years, the scribal culture hand picked a few people... print brought with it a new abundance of information, threatening entrenched ideology... English journalist and trader Daniel Defoe tells of Gutenberg’s business partner arriving in fifteenth century Paris with a wagon load of printed bibles. After they were examined, and the exact similarity verified, the French set upon the delivery man, accusing him of black magic. This new communications technology was seen as work of the devil.’
So is ACTA really about protecting content providers’ potential revenue or is it about censorship and control? The argument that file sharing is ‘theft’ or ‘piracy’ is inconclusive. After all, digital files are not stolen, they are copied. And as the documentary points out, communicating is part of who we are, and some of that is an act of copying. Just ask any parent.
How the media works
Often I have wanted to paste stickers on ‘news’ items that appear in newspapers. They would say, for instance, that this story is a ‘re-written media release,’ or, ‘To ensure future interviews with subject, important questions were not asked.’
This publication, of course, tries its utmost to provide real news to its community; however, the reality is that re-written media releases make up a portion of what constitutes ‘news’.
It’s vital that the public know exactly what they read, watch or listen to is of real journalistic quality. And journalists, for anyone interested, are becoming more integrated with public relations (PR) companies.
Journos and editors have media releases lobbed to them from governments and public relations companies daily. And when a ‘journalist’ puts their name to a re-written media release, it damages not only their reputation and credibility but their publication’s.
It’s disingenuous, lazy, incompetent and is a threat to society.
Real journalists never re-write, they ask questions. They take different points of view; they contrast. When a PR company tells the media something wonderful about its product, or a government tells them how well they are doing, journalists should ask the fundamental question: who does it affect? Of course the best journalism is investigative and does not rely on media releases. It could be argued that media releases are just free advertising. Smart publicists tailor their media releases to a publication and good publications never reprint generic media releases as is.
Does the majority of Australians accept what they read, see or hear in the media? Or is it mostly about manipulation and control? It is always worth remembering that the privileged few that have this voice are of course linked to advertising dollars.
With never-ending cost cutting, many publications don’t have the staff to follow up every media release. Hence, most local publications continue to compromise their editorial content with unexamined media releases.
It’s the ratio of media releases to ‘real news’ that makes a difference; not only to the publication, but to the eventual outcome of a community’s better understanding of itself.
Everything this week is last week’s news anyway. Last week’s newspapers are used for cleaning windows, kitty litter, wrapping chips and – most importantly – starting fires.