German Politics, intellectual property rights

The Other War

One of the real problems of the Iraq induced congestion of the media is that there is so much more important stuff going on that no body hears about – well, at least, that a lot less people hear about than should hear about it.

One of the big issues which currently receive a lot less attention than they deserve is the war concerning intellectual property rights. Yesterday, Berkeley’s Bradford DeLong posteda list of what he believes are the five most important questions facing the world economy today. Number three reads as follows –

“3. How will the current intellectual property wars be resolved? Will they be resolved in a way that greatly increases the profits of CD and movie companies and that slows the adoption of broadband and other advanced information technologies? Or will they be resolved in a way that implicitly or explicitly confiscates a bunch of the intellectual property of CD and movie companies, but that gives consumers and other users enormous incentives to adopt broadband and other advanced information technologies? It is clear to me that the second would be better for economic growth, but that the first is more likely.”

He’s right. Ttwo weeks ago, the US Supreme Court ruled in the case Eldred vs. Ashcroft that it was legal for the US Congress to extend the copyright protection, the “Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act”, which extended by 20 years both existing copyrights and future copyrights, for the law does not extend the protection forever. For Disney (and the like), it was a case about cash flow from exploiting the Mickey Mouse’s of this world. For everybody else (immediately only for those living in the US, of course), it was a case about the balance of private vs. public interests – in the economic realm but also far beyond. The plaintiff’s case had been supported by an amazing amount of intellectual capacity, including various Nobel Price laureates.

But private interests prevailed. It really looks as if owners of intellectual property are able to use their current economic clout and and a socialised narrow, conventional definition of property to put their short term interests above the social long term ones.

The next big battle in the IP war is probably the EU directive 2001/29/EG, which is an attempt to harmonize European copyright regimes with respect to the digital age. While theoretically maintaining the right to a limited amount of personal digital copies of copyrighted work one owns, the directive also contains a clause prohibiting the circumvention of any technical copyright device in order to exercise the right to a personal copy. Thus the private copy clause will in all likelihood be useless following the implementation of the EU directive into the member states’ national legal frameworks.

But resistance is not futile. So far, the directive has only become national law in Greece and Denmark. All other nations let the deadline pass. Debate and opposition are growing, and there are even legal doubts about the directive’s validity. It may be late, but not too late. Click here for a summary of the state of the national legislative processes of all EU member states.

The site also features the web addresses of online petitions in most European countries. It is not too late to sign.

To sign the German petition, just click here.