August 3, 2004  ·  Tim Wu

Last week I was chatting with a friend who now works on the House Ways and Means Committee. Talk turned to the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, which Congress passed in July and which President Bush ratified yesterday.

“That DMCA and copyright term extension stuff,” he said to me, “None of it was really seen as controversial.”

“Some people consider it controversial” I said.

“I’m sure you’re right, and that’s what I thought” he said, “But we only got letters from the library people.” A pause. “Its become a standard clause, and doesn’t really get much attention. If people care about it, they need to do more.”

He’s right. Years of DMCA & term extension criticism can easily boil down to “not controversial.”

  • http://www.benstanfield.com/ Ben Stanfield

    We’re doing more. It may not be obvious quite yet, but there are some things starting to happen. We’ll try to stir up enough controversy, I suppose, so that they’ll pay attention.

    It’d be nice if controversy didn’t matter, and they’d just consider if a bill would make a good law. I suppose that’s too much to ask for.

  • http://t3knomanser.livejournal.com t3knomanser

    I have to say, I’m happy with the approach a great many hacktivists are taking to it- showing how this law, as worded, is going to have far reaching, negative consequences. That is a start at least.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. People just seem to breeze right past it, and it never echos in the halls of power.

  • Alexander Wehr

    I’m sorry, but this “friend” is not a friend if he does not see the tremendous public outcry against this oppressive law.

  • Alexander Wehr

    maybe if our congressmen READ the letters which were sent to them.. or even looked at the news once in a while.. they would see.

    In fact.. they do.. they ignore.. and quite frankly i think the only way this will be stopped is through excercising of the “termination clause” in the so called “social contract”.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    By his lights, he is indeed correct. Internet flaming does not count as “controversy”.

    Nobody is going to bother his office about it, except for the very few “usual suspects”.

    I’m quite bitter that during all my efforts last year to do DMCA testimony, I had to pay hundreds of dollars of expenses out of my own pocket while unemployed, and I couldn’t get any significant favorable press (until the very end). But I did get plenty of various types of grief.

    I even WON. But the lack of support drove me to quit any further efforts.

    Any link between talk and action is sadly lacking.

  • http://craphound.com/ Cory Doctorow

    When I first joined EFF in 2002, I wrote an action alert on the CBDTPA (then the SSSCA), and drew a healthy response — about 400 letters to Congress, on the high side for a typical EFF letter-writing campaign.

    Today, 2.5 years later, the Induce alert is running at about 20,000 letters to Congress and counting.

    So there’s a movement a-borning, IMO, and future iterations of this stuff won’t go gently. We’re on guard at WIPO, in the bilaterals and multilaterals, in Congress, and in every state: we’re going to slow them, we’re going to stop them, we’re going to reverse them.

    As I read your Copyright’s Communications Policy paper, Tim, I was struck by the unspoken subtext of so many of the copyfight solutions brokered over the years: “If you’re an elected lawmaker, you can NOT afford to break your constituents’ television (radio, Victrola, etc).” That’s the rubric for the Broadcast Flag — how Hollywood scared Congress into going along with their dumb idea.

    It’s time to reclaim this subtext for our side of the copyfight: IF YOU BREAK OUR COMPUTERS, WE WON’T VOTE FOR YOU ANYMORE. We can do this. It’s a natural legislator issue.

  • Jim Steel

    As an Australian, I think its appalling, and it is one reason (admittedly among many) that I will be trying to vote out our government in the upcoming election.

  • Alexander Wehr

    “By his lights, he is indeed correct. Internet flaming does not count as �controversy�.

    Nobody is going to bother his office about it, except for the very few �usual suspects�.

    I�m quite bitter that during all my efforts last year to do DMCA testimony, I had to pay hundreds of dollars of expenses out of my own pocket while unemployed, and I couldn�t get any significant favorable press (until the very end). But I did get plenty of various types of grief.

    I even WON. But the lack of support drove me to quit any further efforts.”

    ==============================

    Seth, you’ve been able to actually testify, don’t give up now.. this is the future we speak of.

    By the way, dismissing comments, blogging, and websites is like dismissing the general press.

    It was done a while ago, and yet there are articles now about how blogs make a major difference, and are actually preventing the homogenizing of big media outlets.

    The congressmen have received plenty of letters and grief from the population.. they ignored it. this has nothing to do with “inernet flaming”

  • Alexander Wehr

    “there�s a movement a-borning, IMO, and future iterations of this stuff won�t go gently. We�re on guard at WIPO, in the bilaterals and multilaterals, in Congress, and in every state: we�re going to slow them, we�re going to stop them, we�re going to reverse them”

    I wont question that H.R. 107 has wide support and will likely be pushed until passage, but the way i see it the senate has been thoroughly bought.

    Only one person is even “thinking” about standing up to induce.. and as you said.. there are, between 2 organizations, 30,000 letters to congress and testimony by 4 different groups consisiting of god knows what fraciton of our economy.

    With this kind of climate how do you expect a bill like H.R. 107 to pass the senate?

  • http://www.eff.org Fred von Lohmann

    EFF and CPTech (Consumer Project on Technology) have been very engaged on the intellectual property provisions being foisted on the globe by our Hollywood-addled US Trade Representative. Because it is almost impossible to gain any meaningful traction with the US trade negotiators, we have been taking the fight abroad, educating our trading partners why it is important to fight these provisions (or, if forced to adopt them, to preserve subversive possibilities for national implementation). Here are some examples of our work.

  • Jake

    I think that the biggest reason that there hasn’t been more ‘controversy’ surrounding the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement in respect to the impact on Australia’s intellectual property laws is that the issues are not widely understood at all.

    The average Australian is probably not interested in intellectual property laws, and even those who are interested (I count myself amongst them) are not informed enough to engage in a meaningful debate.

    I am concerned that there may be substantial changes to our (Australia’s) intellectual property laws as a result of this agreement, but I don’t know if my fears are justified.

    My main two concerns are:

    I don’t want the ‘aligning of Australian/US IP laws’ to result in an Australian equivilant of the DMCA. Here, my main concern is that there should be no restrictions on publishing information on how to circumvent ‘digital rights management’ protections. However, I don’t feel informed enough to jump up and down about this because: 1 – I don’t really know if the DMCA does impose these constraints, and 2 – even if it does, I’m not at all clear that the FTA means Australia has to bring in similar laws.

    My second concern is that of software patents. I feel that software patents stifle innovation and I don’t want to see them introduced in Australia. Again, I’m not jumping up and down about this because I don’t know if the FTA will mean Australia has to introduce software patents.

    Furthermore, reading the US Free Trade Implementation Bill 2004 (pdf) which is currently before our parliment – I can’t see any mention of restrictions on describing measures to circumvent ‘digital rights management’ technologies. It says you’re not allowed to circumvent these measures, but doesn’t seem to say you can’t tell people how to. Secondly, I couldn’t find any mention of software patents at all.

    So, should I be concerned about the proposed changes? Is there something I’m missing?

    My biggest concern of all however is the lack of debate about these changes. I shouldn’t be so uncertain about what Australia is agreeing to. As a community, Australians should understand the wide variety of issues flowing from this agreement and have open and honest debate about it. Instead, our polititions pick one issue to fight over (so they can show the voters that they’ve gained/given ground) whilst all the other complex issues are largely ignored by polititions, the media and the wider public.