IPR iceberg right ahead

[ Article transferred from my old wiki ]

This could have been discussed in the previous thread but then, it might have become a little harsh to read for a simple blog post. Let’s move now from the very particular case of patents in the ICT industry to the wide scale of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) taken globally – which includes Patent Law but also Copyright, Trademarks and other special rights on intellectual works.

The sectors concerned here are multiple, beyond our imagination as simple citizen : agriculture, health, environment, space, energy, transportation, security.. Well actually, absolutely all areas of industry.

As you know now how bad IPR can be considering the software patents case, try to figure out their possible implications at global scale in all those sectors and ask yourself “what if software patents were just the tip of the iceberg ; what if IPR were causing serious problems in other fields as well”.. For sure, this deserves a little attention.

Whereas this simple observation should lead to a bunch of studies on IPR advantages and inconvenients depending on every particular field and potentially, related reforms to adapt the system, an International agreement is currently being negotiated secretly to enforce Intellectual Property worldwide with civil but also criminal measures, this without a single safeguard : the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement(ACTA).

Understand this : the ACTA does not make any distinction neither among sectors nor among IPR categories. It is based on the assumption that all rights related to Intellectual Property are fine and shall be enforced the same way whatever the creation, whatever the sector and whatever the country we are talking about – “to permit effective action against any act of infringement of intellectual property rights” (article 6.1). This, with no binding exception.

Concretely, here is an overview of the dramatic consequences that the agreement will lead to unless we stop it.

ACTA vs Individuals :

— Civil liberties threaten, consumer’s protection denied.

By sanctioning and criminalizing final consumers of online services (1), forcing internet providers to control data and transmit it to right holders without former decision of a judge (2), ACTA is violating the freedom of speech and information, the right to protection of privacy and personal data as well as the right to fair trial and due process (3).

To use a more modern concept, ACTA is a clear attempt to Net Neutrality, which supposes “no restrictions by Internet service providers or governments on consumers’ access to networks that participate in the Internet regarding notably content, sites, platforms, types of equipment that may be attached, and modes of communication” (Wikipedia).

— Access to health and medicine jeopardized.

By allowing abusive custom controls, such as destruction of material without proven counterfeiting, and protecting “evergreening” (1) practices from pharmaceutical companies, only serving a small part of the population, ACTA impedes the circulation of generic medicine, and thus prevents developing countries from having an affordable access to health and medicine.

(1) “Evergreening” consists in patenting the same medecine after expiration of the protection by slightly changing the name and composition.

ACTA vs Economy :

By globally supporting existing patent systems and excluding from the market companies on simple injunction / suspicion from a competitor, ACTA is a disaster for European ICT start-ups who cannot afford patent costs and notably, litigation costs. Such situation benefits to established businesses, mostly American and Japanese, and “patents trolls” – cf. 06072005.eu.

ACTA will above all give a competitive advantage to China, currently building a huge patent portfolio and apparently not planning to sign the agreement and then be bound by it, but also to the US, who do intend to join ACTA but exclude patents from its scope. Facing two giants, why the hell would Europe accept new bonds when the others would not ? It just does not make sense.

ACTA vs Environment :

This is just the consequence of the above. Because related to the use of hundred of softwares, the diffusion of green technologies will face the same obstacles as ICT start-ups.

According to the FFII, “the majority of systems (for example, wind turbines, water turbines, and solar collectors) rely on cross-border up-time-management software and systems. ACTA explicitly and adversely impacts the ability to transmit grid and local data, operate feedback mechanisms to energy suppliers, and operate security protocols across international rail, air, and shipping infrastructure applications.”

Beyond its dangerous content, ACTA is above all an anti democratic tool negotiated out of legitimate institutions – they would have opposed it – and authorising an ad hoc committee to amend the text to set new rules with not even consulting the parties.

Update 26.01.2012 : whereas ACTA has been signed by most of EU member states as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States, it is not yet in effect in Europe. ACTA should be ratified by European Parliament next Summer.

STOP iT NOW : follow instructions given by citizen lobbies and help kicking it out.