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.