More anti-file-sharing propaganda is one of the concrete proposals from the EU Commission in its initiative to set up an “IP Observatory”.
Last week, I took part when the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee JURI discussed the IP Observatory. It is supposed to combat all kinds of intellectual property violations, from commercial goods counterfeiting to illegal downloads from the Internet.
The IP Observatory has been heavily criticized by activist organizations like La Quadrature du Net. Basically, the Commission wants to set up an institution to hunt Internet file sharers, under the pretext of combating commercial goods counterfeiting.
The JURI committee is involved because we are to give an opinion on the IP Observatory. It is an initiative report, which means that we (the European Parliament) tell the Commission what we think they should do. It is a response to a communication from the Commission, where they told us that they had had this idea about an IP Observatory, and wanted to know what we though about it.
After the report has passed through the JURI committee it will be voted in plenary by the full European Parliament. The timetable is not quite set yet, but possibly during the session in April, possibly later.
Just like La Quadrature, I am highly critical of the proposal, as it
- deliberately confuses commercial counterfeiting with file sharing,
- calls for three-strikes legislation against Internet users,
- recommends money to be spent on propaganda campaigns against file sharing,
- encourages the Commission to conclude the controversial ACTA agreement, and
- takes no notice of the fact excessive enforcement measures on the net can come into conflict with other interests, including our fundamental rights.
The IP Observatory proposal from the Commission follows the classical pattern. When they are arguing for this new institution, the Commission talks almost exclusively about commercial goods counterfeiting. But if the institution is ever created, we can be sure that it will spend most of its time on trying to fight non-commercial file sharing.
In the JURI committee in the Parliament, Marielle Gallo (EPP, France) is the rapporteur. This means that she is responsible for drafting the report where the committee expresses its opinion. The rapporteur plays an important role in the process of anything going through the European Parliament.
When she presented her draft report to the committee, she followed the same line as the Commission, and made no distinction between goods counterfeiting and file sharing. For example, she stressed the argument that piracy may put consumers at risk and pose health hazards. This is a perfectly legitimate concern when it comes to counterfeit pharmaceuticals sold on the net, and it is one of the reasons why we all want to combat that phenomenon.
But nobody in his right mind would claim that young people downloading films and music is a health hazard. Even i you think that most of what kids watch and listen to nowadays is rubbish, at least it isn’t that bad.
If the discussion is to be meaningful, we must try to keep it at least a little bit legally stringent. Commercial counterfeiting and file sharing are two different things.
“Information campaigns about the importance of copyright” would be one of the tasks of the IP Observatory.
This is a complete waste of money, and we all know it. The film- and record companies, sometimes together with various authorities and helped by public funding, have spent millions and millions on “information campaigns” for at least twenty years. During the same time, file sharing continued to grow exponentially.
Let us establish once and for all:
Anti-file-sharing propaganda does not work.
And how could it? The target audience for these “information” campaigns is usually the young generation, perhaps defined as those between 12 and 30. But they already have a far better understanding of the net and its possibilities than anybody who works with designing “information” at either the Commission or film- and record companies. They are the first digital natives, and no amount of propaganda or ”awareness campaigns” are going to change that.
Instead of suddenly changing their habits of a lifetime, as the Commission seems to think young people would do, they are simply laughing at the propaganda. The net is full of parodies and remixes of previous ”information” campaigns. And now the Commission wants to spend more of our tax money on making more of the same.
We may get a few laughs for our money, but other than that it seems utterly pointless to me.
Of course the lobbyists from the film- and record companies know this is ineffective. They are more interested in the other parts of the proposal: the recommendation to introduce new three-strikes legislation to shut people off the net, and to conclude the ACTA negotiations with the US.
This is the sharp end of the proposal. Three-strikes legislation is being introduced in various member states at this very moment. And although the ACTA negotiations are being carried out in secret, without even the European Parliament being informed by the Commission and the Council, we know from what has been leaked that the agreement is full of new repressive legislation against file sharers.
If the ACTA agreement goes through, there would have to be some body to oversee all this new activity directed against file sharers. The IP Observatory, if one is created along the lines that the Commission wants, would fit like a glove to fulfill this role. This is hardly a coincidence.
This is where it stops being funny. I wouldn’t steal a baby, or nuke a panda bear, or set fire to a naval dockyard, but I don’t mind watching funny clips on YouTube reminding me not to.
But I do mind having my fundamental rights, including my right to privacy and my right to receive and impart information without interference by public authority, reduced by, or ”balanced” against, the commercial interests of the entertainment industry of the previous century.
Fighting goods counterfeiting is fine. Fighting the future is not. Especially not at the price of our fundamental rights.
Previous posts on the IP Observatory: