Another Attempt to Tame the Internet
The so-called ACTA agreement (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), which was negotiated behind closed doors between 39 countries (including the US, the European Union, Japan, Australia et al.) with zero democratic input, has been put on hold for now, as Germany and a few other European nations decided to delay ratification. This delay was brought on by protests erupting in several European nations. We should all try to make sure it becomes a permanent dealy.
Like SOPA and PIPA, ACTA is mainly a brainchild of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and the PHRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America), all of which are extremely powerful lobbying groups that represent a major source of 'political contributions', more colloquially known as 'bribes', to the US Congress. The purpose of the treaty according to Wikipedia is:
„ […] to establish international standards for intellectual property rights enforcement. The agreement aims to establish an international legal framework for targeting counterfeit goods, generic medicines and copyright infringement on the Internet, and would create a new governing body outside existing forums, such as the World Trade Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, or the United Nations.“
Given the recent raid on the founder of 'Mega-Upload' and his business associates, whom the long arm of the FBI caught up with in New Zealand (!) for alleged copyright infringement, shutting down all web sites belonging to the business simultaneously and without warning, one wonders why yet another law is thought to be required. As always, the devil is in the details.
The Erroneous Views of the Music and Film Industries
Before continuing regarding ACTA itself, we want to point out that the music and motion picture industries, which are the main drivers behind these intellectual property related raids and laws are simply mistaken about the effect internet downloads have on their income. As an example, consider the 2009 movie release 'Avatar'. So far, this movie has grossed an estimated $2.8 billion worldwide (we think the movie sucked, but there's no accounting for tastes). And yet, we're pretty sure that if one were to look for a possibility to download it for free, then one would be able to find a copy. In other words, how much money a movie makes largely still seems to depend on whether people actually like it. It is difficult to argue that a $2.8 billion blockbuster was actually harmed by illegal downloads.
Hollywood year-in, year-out produces a big pile of worthless, tedious and time-wasting trash (this is our personal opinion, it might not be shared by everyone). And yet, people are supposed to literally buy the pig in the poke every time. All you have to do is look at the movie reviews on IMDB: one of the most often recurring phrases is 'I want my money back!'. Alas, you don't get your money back. Perhaps a law is needed that keeps Hollywood from producing trash that steals peoples' valuable time or at least provide adequate refunds? After all, no-one can give you back the 90 minutes of your life that you just wasted watching yet another crappy run-of-the-mill production celebrating political correctness and boring you half to death in the process. Just saying.
The reality of the situation is this: there was indeed a noticeable slowdown in music and movie sales for a while and it certainly coincided with the widespread adoption of the internet. Consider though that the entertainment industries are forced to compete for the limited time and the limited funds people have at their disposal. The internet, television, music and movies – although they can at times be combined – have to share everyone's 24 hour day. Every minute a teenager spends on Facebook he can not spend watching 'Star Wars Episode One 3-D' (somehow, in spite of illegal downloads, the movie industry is still able to make money with this now over 30 year old franchise. The movie 'Episode One' was first released in 1999; the new 3 D version has made it to place 4 in box office receipts over the past week in the US alone, earning $23 million. This is in spite of the fact that the warmed-up version of Star Wars is downright embarrassing to watch if you're older than 10).
Nevertheless, if you give people what they want, they evidently will pay for it. No doubt a great many illegal downloads are occurring. We would however posit that the great bulk of these illegal downloads concern movies or music people would simply not consume at all if they had to pay for them. Our own musical and cinematic tastes are a bit eclectic, but mostly tend toward works that have not necessarily been the biggest commercial successes. We refuse to listen to mp3 encoded versions of such music: too much information is lost in the digital compression procedure. The CD is already a compromise at a resolution of 16 bit and 44,100 Hertz (most music is actually recorded at 24 or 32 bits and 96,000 Hertz these days), but its flaws can be successfully 'covered up' for the human ear with the use of psycho-acoustic tricks like the addition of quantized noise to silent or soft passages.
Don't worry about this though if you like to listen to modern-day pop music: you won't notice much of a difference, because modern recordings are without exception completely bereft of dynamic. This is inter alia why the ear tires so quickly when being subjected to non-stop renditions of the latest hits. The reason is that during post production processing, the music is subjected to treatment with compressors and limiters that completely remove all traces of dynamics. If you have software capable of producing visual representations of wave forms, compare any 1970's production (these were still recorded in fully analogue mode with multi-track tape machines), say a song by Pink Floyd, with a modern-day pop hit. The 1970's song's wave form will have hills and valleys, suggesting motion and dynamics. The modern-day song will look like a brick – and that's also what it sounds like, even if one realizes it only on a subconscious level at first. You can listen to those bricks in mp3 encoded form without having to worry much about quality losses.
The point of this digression is to make clear that if we want to fully enjoy the kind of music we actually like, we have to stump up the money for a CD or another high quality rendition. Anything we'd even consider downloading for free would be music we would never think of buying in the first place. It would make no difference whatsoever to the recording industry. In fact, we think that it is rather likely that by not being forced to buy the pig in the poke, many people discover things they like by first hearing or seeing them for free – which then motivates them to buy music by the artists concerned or the movies made by certain directors, actors, script writers, and so forth.
In short it is free advertising. For many lesser known artists it is quite possibly the only way by which they can hope to gain recognition.
The Evils of ACTA
The current president of the EU parliament, Martin Schulz, whom we find little common ground with otherwise, has been instrumental in delaying the ratification of ACTA. The main reason for the re-think were evidently the massive protests against the agreement across the EU.
“The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is unbalanced and does not offer enough protection for the rights of internet users, the president of the European Parliament has said.
Martin Schulz, a German politician who became president of the parliament in January, said on Sunday that was a flawed agreement. His words came after massive protests on Saturday, in which tens of thousands of Europeans took to the streets to demonstrate against ACTA.
"The necessary balance of… protection of copyright on the one hand, and [protection of] users' fundamental rights on the other, is not sufficiently established in this agreement. So, I think it's not good in its current form," Schulz on Sunday night.
The contents of ACTA, which has been under development since 2007, cannot be changed at this point, having been . If it is to come into force anywhere in the EU, it must be ratified wholesale by the European Parliament, as well as every EU member state.
Germany and Slovakia, neither of which has even signed ACTA, let alone ratified it, have also said they will not yet sign the agreement. In Germany's case, the country will hold off signing until the European Parliament has voted on EU-level ratification later this year.
ACTA is an international agreement, drawn up behind closed doors, that aims to bring much of the world up to the standards of copyright enforcement found in places such as the US and EU. Its critics say it ignores the rights of internet users and could harm free speech in countries that do not have the safeguards found in the EU and US.”
And here we already come to the major point, regardless of one's stance regarding so-called 'intellectual property' rights. It is ultimately free speech that is going to be endangered by the adoption of the agreement. Why does anyone think the agreement was negotiated clandestinely, excluding, as the the Electronic Frontier Foundation among others have noted “civil society groups, developing countries and the general public from the agreement's negotiation process, and describing it as ” (from the Wikipedia entry on ACTA).
You don't negotiate major agreements of this sort clandestinely unless you fear a political backlash. As we have frequently pointed out, the ruling elites in the regulatory democracies of the West – i.e. the moneyed interests, the political and bureaucratic classes as well as the etatiste intellectuals feeding at the tax payer trough – are probably all quite alarmed at this stage about the genie that has fled the bottle, i.e., the Internet. It is not only authoritarian governments that are trying to exercise control over the Internet – the same goes for the establishment in the West.
Just consider: there would e.g. be no Ron Paul phenomenon; his ideas would have been kept safely under wraps as a 'fringe phenomenon' if not for the world-wide web. Austrian economics would have stayed 'dead', forever blanked out and passed over in academic silence by means of the 'peer reviewed' enforcement of what constitutes 'acceptable discourse' (this is to say, only pro-statist discourse is allowed). There likely would not have been an 'Arab Spring' – without the Internet, the protests could not have been organized. Ben-Ali and Mubarak would both still be in power. There would be no way of unmasking and learning about the misdeeds of the ruling classes, as the mainstream media have long ago been bought off and are wallowing in shameful self-censorship.
If you wonder why we are so convinced that free speech is in danger, just ask yourself this: why the secretiveness of the ACTA negotiations, and why is such an agreement even needed in view of the already existing- and evidently rather scarily effective (see the Mega-Updload affair) – laws against copyright infringement? Why are politicians so eager to do the bidding of an industry that is, relatively speaking, in decline? There has to be an ulterior motive – and it should be self-evident what that motive is.
As , at a time when most people had yet to hear about ACTA:
It can justly be called the greatest threat of our time to the advancement of human civilization. Considering the magnitude of the other abuses of power pervading the world today, this might seem an exaggeration, but the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) contravenes every principle of civilized society, both in its content and in the nature of the proceedings leading to its creation.
It threatens to undo the accomplishments of the great Internet revolution and to thrust humankind back to a time when individuals had no public voice and no countervailing power against politically privileged mercantilist institutions. ACTA tramples on essential rights that have achieved even mainstream recognition: innocence until one is proven guilty, due process, personal privacy, and fair use of published content. Moreover, because of its designation as a trade agreement, ACTA could be imposed on the people of the United States by the president, without even a vote of Congress.”
Freedom of Information Act requests regarding ACTA have been denied in the United States on the grounds of "national security" — while major special interests supporting intellectual property have been allowed privileged access to the negotiations. These interests include the usual suspects — the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Sony Pictures, and Time Warner — who were invited by none other than the United States Trade Representative to give their "input" on the treaty. Members of the public at large, whom national governments are ostensibly supposed to represent, were not allowed to know about the ACTA negotiations for years. Meanwhile, front seats at the negotiating table were offered to the parasitic organizations which have thwarted actual creators' freedoms and ruined the lives of thousands with frivolous multimillion-dollar lawsuits.”
Stephen Kinsella remarked on ACTA in April of 2010 when the draft of the agreement became known:
“ACTA is also similar to another arcane law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which, under the guise of protecting “property rights,” snuck in provisions that criminalize even the mere possession of technology that can be used to circumvent digital protection systems (see, e.g., my post ). Likewise, under the guise or protecting property rights in inventions and artistic works (patent and copyright), it “seeks to provide legal authority for the surveillance of Internet file transfers and searches of personal property”. As one group notes, “ACTA goes way, way beyond the TRIPS (the copyright/patent/trademark stuff in the World Trade Organization agreement), creating an entirely new realm of liability for people who provide services on the net”. More invasion of personal liberty and property rights in the name of false, artificial property rights.”
You can bet that the decisive point swaying the ruling classes in favor of ACTA is precisely the 'provision of legal authority for the surveillance of Internet file transfers and searches of personal property'. By making the possession of technology that can be 'used to circumvent digital protection systems' illegal, a large percentage of internet users is being criminalized a priori, whether or not they actually commit the sin of copyright infringement. As is often the case with administrative law – this is to say, laws that are created by bureaucratic committees without any democratic oversight – a broad brush law is put into place that ensures that as many people are criminalized as possible – since this is a stick that can be wielded at the discretion of the authorities against anyone at any time. It is a great thing to have if one wants to get rid of or suppress people that are voicing inconvenient opinions.
In a way, this approach is very similar to the NDAA (the 'National Defense Authorization Act') and similar anti-terrorism laws enacted all over the world in recent years. The stock argument of their defenders is that 'you have nothing to fear if you're an upright citizen, since the administration will never abuse these laws' – unfortunately, since the laws do away with due process and allow the executive to keep its actions secret, there is no way of actually establishing the veracity of such statements.
Moreover, what the supporters overlook is that even if we were to grant that the law won't be abused right now – i.e., if we give the kind of credit to the fallible men in government that they clearly don't deserve – there is no guarantee it won't happen in the future. If a new Hitler were to rise to power, he would not even have to go through the rigmarole of burning down the Reichstag so he could put in place his 'enabling law' – it would be already waiting for him, ready-made and perfected down the finest details!
Alas, the perversions of the ACTA agreement go even beyond what is discussed above. As we noted, there is actually quite a positive effect for the creators of art works stemming from the exposure they are getting on the internet by allowing their content to be viewed and listened to 'for free'. Have you ever wondered why it is still possible to watch a great many music videos on You-tube, in spite of the ongoing ministrations of the copyright police?
It is because artists actually appreciate the exposure. It doesn't harm their commercial interests, it actually helps them. This is why the DMCA ('Digital Millenium Copyright Act'), for all its onerousness, is still a quite harmless version of ACTA – its provisions are such that those who think that their copyrights are being harmed must gather the necessary evidence and file a complaint. ACTA would do away with this provision.
As Stolyarov informs us in the above linked article:
“With ACTA, this requirement would be eliminated, and the holder of "intellectual property rights" would not even need to complain in order for governments to persecute the alleged infringer.
The sheer absurdity of this approach does not take long to recognize. Indeed, many copyright holders today — from superstar musicians to part-time online content creators — deliberately look the other way when others reproduce their work without prior permission; they hope to benefit from the resulting exposure. Under ACTA, governments would be able to crack down on the fans of these creators, against those creators' own wishes! Even if one accepts the validity of intellectual-property rights (which I do not), who would be the rights holder here — individual creators, or governments and the large, politically privileged trade associations that are pushing this treaty?
Under ACTA, the very suspicion or allegation of having downloaded or even accessed copyrighted material online would render one's computer open to search without a warrant. Fines and other penalties would apply to refusing permission for a search, while anyone consenting to a search would almost certainly be found guilty of some "infringement" or another. Under ACTA, even viewing a website containing material that infringes a copyright — without the viewer being aware of said infringement's existence — would be considered aiding and abetting the infringement.
(bolded emphasis added, italics taken from original)
This underscores the point we made further above: the agreement would render practically every internet user a potential criminal. The door would be opened to a witch hunt of nigh unlimited proportions. Considering the absurdly high fines imposed for downloads that infringe copyrights, surfing the web could become a rather dangerous activity.
As an example for the potential costs involved, consider that in Germany, a wrinkle of the legal system has allowed copyright infringement to become a huge business for lawyers. They simply send so-called 'Abmahnungen' to people (literally, 'legal warning notices', but they are far more than that). An 'Abmahnung' is essentially a bill, where the lawyer bills the suspect for his alleged illegal download activity. Usually the 'price' charged for downloading a movie is thousands of times the price of the DVD. In addition, the lawyers charge up to € 1,000 for themselves (far above the € 100 they are officially allowed to charge – they simply rely on the fact that most people are ignorant of the law and will pay without questioning the amounts charged). These 'Abmahnung' letters are apparently sent out in mass mail fashion – investigations seem to be scant, nor do the lawyers need to receive any legitimate complaints prior to the mailing of these bills. The method is akin to throwing sh*t at the wall to see what might stick. More than half a million such bills are mailed out in Germany every year – based on what is usually questionable proof.
Germany's 'Handelsblatt' writes (our translation):
“As Rolf S. opens his mail the other day, he is rendered speechless. In the letter, the law office U+C from Regensburg alleges that he downloaded a pornographic movie from a file sharing network. Now he is supposed to pay a large fee to the lawyers, compensation for damages as well as sign a 'cease and desist' notice. “At the time of the alleged download, my wife and I were at work, our daughter was at school. We haven't downloaded anything”, the irate father relates. Strangers could not have done it either, as the network access is guarded by a password.
Rolf S. isn't the only one. The number of such 'warning letters' has been increasing rapidly for several years, as millions can be made with these letters.
Experts charge that the lawyers specializing in 'Abmahnungen' are engaged in frivolous profiteering: the sums demanded are too high, and many of the letters are actually gratuitous.”
For the release of the data [concerning IP addresses, ed.], a court order is necessary, which the lawyers can easily get. If for instance the suspicion of a rights violation of commercial extent is present – i.e., if the up- or downloader is suspected of creating a financial loss to the copyright owners. This is however not defined in great detail. The critics therefore talk about a 'free pass for the warning letter industry'.
Wachs [a media attorney in Hamburg, ed.] believes that in the course of the investigations, there are frequently incidents of IP addresses being wrongly assigned. “It is rather strange when a deaf person is charged with having downloaded 'Bushido' if he can't even hear it.”
There is usually no way to actually check the allegations, computer specialist and expert court witness Thomas Schmidt says. “An IP address only remains valid for about 24 hours. Thereafter, a new one is assigned. The old number than could be assigned to someone else – mix-ups are quite possible. Since data providers are not allowed to hold on to the data for longer than seven days, it is impossible to prove one's innocence later on. Thus this type of proof is highly questionable”
Due to the veritable flood of such complaints, the courts actually don't have the time to really examine each case in detail. About 25% to 30% of the recipients of such letters are estimated to simply pay up in order to to avoid having to go to the trouble of trying to fight the allegations in court. A common trick is to offer the alleged perpetrators a 'discount' if they pay right away. As a German civil rights group has noted, 'many are intimidated by the many pages long letters'. You can imagine what ACTA would do for this industry – it would likely become a world-wide phenomenon. However, the above is what happens in Germany even with the requirement of court orders, which are apparently handed out quite freely. Under ACTA, there would be no need to even fulfill this basic requirement of due process.
Returning to Stolyarov's excellent write-up, he notes that under ACTA, mere suspicion would be enough to render one's computer open to search and seizure by the authorities:
“Moreover, ACTA would render individuals liable to searches and penalties even for the suspicion of possessing materials that might have been obtained via distribution channels that are similar to distribution channels for obtaining unauthorized copies. So, if you ever downloaded a free mp3 file from an artist who shares all of his work for free online, you would not be safe. And this is not too far off from what the proponents of ACTA desire. Remember that, with the force of US law on its side, the RIAA to offer their own works for free on certain channels — such as Internet radio. This organization — the epitome of mercantilism and protectionism for politically connected large studios — would enjoy nothing more than the death of free, legitimate sharing of content online.”
Furthermore – and this is a decisive point – ACTA could be used even against those who do not infringe on any copyrights whatsoever. Already the 'DMCA' has been abused quite often in an attrmpt to censor controversial opinions uttered by people who have not been culpable of infringrment of copyrights in any way. This has become possible because it is these days extremely easy to arrange for the take-down of content simply by means of complaining and alleging copyright infringement even if none exists. ACTA would make this process even easier. Stolyarov notes in this context:
“Just as important to remember is that people who never infringe on anyone's copyright are just as likely to suffer from ACTA, particularly if they have anything intelligent and controversial to say online. If there is anything that the history of DMCA notice abuses teaches us, it is that sophisticated expressions of ideas are never safe from malicious and contrived allegations of copyright infringement.
Thousands of creators on YouTube, whose works contained no copyrighted materials, have for years been served DMCA takedown notices by fanatics who intensely disagreed with their ideas. YouTube's mindless automatic response system to DMCA notices resulted in these creators' accounts being suspended and sometimes deleted altogether, even when their accusers clearly violated the law by bringing forth frivolous charges. Under ACTA, the same frivolous accusations can result in much more than the deletion of a video account; governments will assume the role of enforcers, and — judging by precedents such as the war on drugs and "airport security" — you can be certain that they will not be nearly as scrupulous or respectful of individual rights as YouTube.”
And naturally, we can probably bid farewell to the 'fair use' principle that has hitherto been respected as an integral part of internet communication. As Stolyarov points out, courts have over the years carved out a reasonable compromise with regards to 'fair use',
[…] to protect individuals seeking to use portions of copyrighted material for research, teaching, satire, and debate — among other worthwhile purposes. ACTA would greatly roll back the scope of fair use and would largely take the questions out of national judicial systems and into the scope of an international enforcement body specifically created by the treaty.”
As Stolyarov also notes, the supporters of the treaty maintain – just as is being routinely done in the context of anti-terror legislation – that there would be no 'widespread searches of laptops and mp3 players at the borders'. Alas, that is a very weak argument indeed:
“However, the draft treaty and discussion drafts nevertheless do contain provisions authorizing exactly this sort of search. It is immaterial whether or not the intent is to target massive commercial cross-border "pirating" operations: where the authority to engage in a certain act against ordinary individuals exists, it will be invoked somewhere, sometime, by somebody.
To be sure, the searches would be scattered and irregularly applied; they would not affect all people all the time. But the very right to conduct such a search would provide a formal justification for inconveniencing and punishing individuals who may displease the authorities for other reasons but who, in the absence of ACTA, would provide no probable cause for their devices to be scrutinized.
This is exactly how anti-terrorism laws are in fact already applied. Individuals that 'displease the authorities' such as e.g. Jacob Applebaum of the 'TOR' project and also occasional spokesperson for Wikileaks, find themselves regularly at the receiving end of a law that supposedly is in place to guard us against the terrorist activities of reactionary medieval Islamic fundamentalists hiding out in caves in the Hindu Kush.
“Jacob Appelbaum is an independent computer security researcher and hacker. He is currently employed by the University of Washington,  and is a core member of the Tor project. Appelbaum is known for representing Wikileaks at the 2010 Hope conference. He has subsequently been repeatedly targeted by US law enforcement agencies, who obtained a court order for his Twitter account data, detained him 12 times at the US border after trips abroad, and seized a laptop and several mobile phones.”
What a coincidence! The man somehow just looks like a terrorist to the boarder guards every time he crosses a border! So much for the idea that laws that can be abused somehow magically won't be. Stolyarov quotes a passage from Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' that is apposite to the idea discussed further above: how do you suppress your citizens if they are law-abiding? Simple, you make them all into criminals!
“There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted — and you create a nation of law-breakers — and then you cash in on guilt.”
This is precisely the tendency we have observed in the welfare/warfare democracies over recent decades. Volumes upon volumes of often incomprehensible and labyrinthine legislation and regulations are produced, rendering nearly everyone a criminal without him even knowing it.
Consider in this context a graphic in a post discussing the incredibly complicated US tax code:
The US tax code has gone from 400 pages in 1913 to 72,536 pages today. How can anyone still be certain he complies with this law? Remember that ignorance of the law does not keep you from being punished if you break it. Since it is simply impossible for an individual to actually know the law, we must conclude that we actually live in a tyranny that only retains vestiges of a truly free society for propaganda purposes. This is a mask that is certainly dropped quickly when it suits the authorities – click chart for better resolution.
This is symptomatic for every area of the law nowadays – a complex web of rules and regulations, which is impossible for the average citizen to understand or keep an overview of. Since everyone has essentially become an outlaw, it is very easy to crack down on persons that invoke the authorities' 'displeasure'. Note here that Jacob Appelbaum, whose case we cited as an example for this tendency above, can actually rely on his notoriety and fame to protect him to a great extent. It is not the same for Joe Q. Public, who can be crushed completely at any time and without notice.
The Importance of Internet Freedom
The free exchange of information enabled by the Internet has become a big headache for the established order everywhere. It is no coincidence that the net is completely censored in all authoritarian countries, from China to Belarus. Our own political rulers would much prefer it if citizens had only a handful of easily controlled mainstream media to get their news from.
It certainly would be much easier to cover up their misdeeds – a case in point is the Wikileaks 'affair'. Wikileaks inter alia uncovered what were evidently war crimes, a highly embarrassing moment for the government. As Glenn Greenwald points out in a recent article, Hillary Clinton's speech in The Hague defending internet freedom is a case of 'do as I say, not as a I do', as the government's reaction to Wikileaks clearly shows. Instead of trying to pursue those whose misdeeds were revealed, it went about pursuing the whistle-blowers with all its might.
In a previous article on the Wikileaks case, we quoted an interview with Doug Casey that remains apposite to the topic at hand :
“L: “In an interesting counterpoint, Reuters reports that Hillary Clinton defended WikiLeaks , even as she arrived in Kazakhstan at the same time as the embarrassing assessment of Kazakh leadership was leaked. Sometimes liberals do defend liberal ideas, like freedom of the press.”
Doug: “Sometimes. But not if it's politically incorrect press. You can rely on them only to make government larger and more expensive at every turn – that you can rely upon like a Swiss train. Hillary – like any Secretary of State – is a skilled and enthusiastic liar. Her stock in trade is deception. Everything she says is intended to forward her drive to be the President. I wonder if she'd be worse than Palin? But that's like asking if Nero would be worse than Caligula.”
The last word belongs to Gennady Stolyarov:
“The Internet and other personal technologies have been the saving grace of the past 20 years. In every other respect, Western societies in 2010 look much more dysfunctional and tyrannical than they did in 1990. Consider that, 20 years ago, totalitarianism was collapsing in the Soviet Bloc and beginning to be consciously rejected in China; today, in the West itself, our previously creeping totalitarianism now advances at a gallop.
The free culture of the Internet — free both in the sense of liberty and in the sense of monetary cost — has the potential to loosen and ultimately remove the death grip of the old institutions on Western societies. In "The Effects of the Economic Crisis on Young People" I argue that the up-and-coming generation should create an alternative economy using the Internet and personal technology so as to immunize itself from the depredations of bailed-out firms and inflationary monetary authorities. But if this culture of creative activity on the Internet is quashed by ACTA, the vampire institutions could persist indefinitely.
The free culture of the Internet — free both in the sense of liberty and in the sense of monetary cost — has the potential to loosen and ultimately remove the death grip of the old institutions on Western societies. In "" I argue that the up-and-coming generation should create an alternative economy using the Internet and personal technology so as to immunize itself from the depredations of bailed-out firms and inflationary monetary authorities. But if this culture of creative activity on the Internet is quashed by ACTA, the vampire institutions could persist indefinitely.
This would not be the first time in history when stagnation and decline characterize entire eras. Ancient Egypt, the Roman and Byzantine empires, the European Dark Ages, Bourbon France, and the Soviet Union are just a few examples; obsolete and parasitic institutions, with enough force, can ruin the lives of multiple generations before finally collapsing under their own oppressive weight.
To be sure, ACTA would not kill the Internet altogether — not directly, at least. But if even routine uses of the Internet — not to mention trying to develop new online technologies for creation and distribution of content — render one vulnerable to criminal persecution, how many ordinary, risk-averse people would choose to participate? Not even the semblance of breaking the law would be required for one to be harmed by ACTA.”
This should be of considerable concern to all of us. Similar to 'PIPA' and 'SOPA', 'ACTA' needs to be stopped dead in its tracks. Once implemented, there is no telling how much harm it will potentially do. We encourage readers to read Stolyarov's article in toto. Moreover, consider also reading a bit from at Mises.org regarding the questionable basis of 'intellectual property' as such. However, even supporters of IP should be against ACTA for the reasons cited above.
The free exchange of information and ideas is actually a fundamental building block enabling our society and civilization to progress. The moment people begin to be afraid of what they can or cannot say in public, civilization comes under threat. Under the guise of protecting 'intellectual property', governments are trying to get a foot into the door so to speak, that will allow for greater control and surveillance. Surveillance and the knowledge that such surveillance exists also hamper the free exchange of ideas.
In this context, consider this excellent keynote address by the above mentioned Jacob Appelbaum at a recent conference in Australia. As he points out, the surveillance state has become all-encompassing, is effectively out of control and is already hampering free speech, as people begin to apply more and more self-censorship – their behavior is modified by this recognition:
Appelbaum's keynote speech on surveillance and censorship at a recent conference in Australia. Note that the address only begins at 4:24
The former home of George Orwell ironically has a CCTV camera mounted in front of it nowadays. 1984 has truly arrived.
We should see to it that ACTA is laid ad acta, interred forever in a dusty file cabinet.
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Mutating Promises We are less than one week away from the EU referendum, the moment when the British people will be called upon to make a historic decision – will they vote to “Brexit” or to “Bremain”? Both camps have been going at each other with fierce campaigns to tilt the vote in their direction, but according to the latest polls, with the “Leave” camp’s latest surge still within the margin of error, the outcome is too close to call. The battle lines are...
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Bold Prediction MICHAELS, Maryland – The flag in front of our hotel flies at half-mast. The little town of St. Michaels is a tourist and conference destination on the Chesapeake Bay. It is far from Orlando, and even farther from Daesh (a.k.a. ISIL) and the Mideast. St. Michaels, Maryland – the town that fooled the British (they say, today). Photo credit: Fletcher6 Out on the river, a sleek sailboat, with lacquered wood trim, glides by, making hardly a...
- Going... Going... Gone! The EU Begins to Splinter
Dark Social Mood Tsunami Washes Ashore Early this morning one might have been forgiven for thinking that Japan had probably just been hit by another tsunami. The Nikkei was down 1,300 points, the yen briefly soared above par. Gold had intermittently gained 100 smackers – if memory serves, the biggest nominal intra-day gain ever recorded (with the possible exception of one or two days in early 1980). Here is a picture of Haruhiko Kuroda in front of his Bloomberg monitor this...
- Rule Britannia
A Glorious Day What a glorious day for Britain and anyone among you who continues to believe in the ideas of liberty, freedom, and sovereign democratic rule. The British people have cast their vote and I have never ever felt so relieved about having been wrong. Against all expectations, the leave camp somehow managed to push the referendum across the center line, with 51.9% of voters counted electing to leave the European Union. Waving good-bye to...
- What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
A Convocation Of Gamblers The Wall Street Journal and BloombergView have just run articles on the shadow banking system in China. This has put me in a nostalgic mood. About 35 years ago when I was living in Japan, I made a side trip to Hong Kong. Asia's Sin City, Macau Photo credit: Nattee Chalermtiragool I took the hydrofoil to Macau one afternoon and the same service back early the next morning. On the morning trip, I am sure that I saw many of the...
- The Problem with Corporate Debt
Taking Off Like a Rocket There are actually two problems with corporate debt. One is that there is too much of it... the other is that a lot of it appears to be going sour. Harvey had a good time in recent years...well, not so much between mid 2014 and early 2016, but happy days are here again! Cartoon by Frank Modell As a brief report at Marketwatch last week (widely ignored as far as we are aware) informs us: “Businesses racked up debt in the...
- A Darwin Award for Capital Allocation
Beyond Human Capacity Distilling down and projecting out the economy’s limitless spectrum of interrelationships is near impossible to do with any regular accuracy. The inputs are too vast. The relationships are too erratic. The economy - complex and ever-changing interrelations. Image credit: Andrea Dionne Quite frankly, keeping tabs on it all is beyond human capacity. This also goes for the federal government. Even with all their data gatherers and...
- Janet Yellen’s $200-Trillion Debt Problem
Blame “Brexit” BALTIMORE – The U.S. stock market broke its losing streak on Thursday [and even more so on Monday, ed.]. After five straight losing sessions, the Dow eked out a 92-point gain. The financial media didn’t know what to say about it. So, we ended up with the typical inanities, myths, and claptrap. “Investors” are pushing the DJIA back up again..apparently any excuse will do at the moment. The idea may backfire though, as exactly the same thing happened...
- The Fed’s Doomsday Device
Bezzle BALTIMORE – Barron’s, in a lather, says the market is facing the “Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Huh? Only two? There were four last time! Supposedly, the so-called Brexit – the vote in Britain this Thursday on whether to leave or remain in the European Union (EU) – and uncertainty over where the Fed will take U.S. interest rates are cutting down stocks faster than a Z-turn mower. But Brexit is a side show. As our contacts in London...
- Gold and Brexit
Going Up for the Wrong Reason Gold is soaring. It should—and a lot—but in my view not for the reason it is. Indeed gold is insurance for uncertain times, a time that Brexit seems to represent. But insurance is an administrative cost — one must minimize its use. August gold contract, daily – gold has been strong of late, but this seems to be driven by “Brexit” fears - click to enlarge. Moreover, insuring against Brexit might ironically be equivalent...