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Copyright is Theft - fight the new piracy laws

Freedom | 01.04.2004 14:33

Ever downloaded a song from the internet or copied a tape or CD? Then you're a menace to society, according to draconian anti-piracy laws passed by the EU last month.

The law was supposedly designed to target professional pirates, criminals and counterfeiters who make copies of goods such as perfume, designer clothes or CDs. During the debates, the directive was widened to cover *any* infringement of intellectual property. The directive allows companies to raid homes, seize property and ask courts to freeze bank accounts to protect trademarks or intellectual property they believe are being abused or stolen.
[From Freedom, Anarchist News and Views]

The European law was pushed through the European Parliament by MEP Janelly Fourtou, wife of the boss of media giant Vivendi Universal. A similar law in the United States was introduced by senators who receive large contributions from the entertainment industries.

The bill grants frightening new powers to "rights holders" (i.e. rich multinationals) to obtain personal information on people using programs such as Kazaa or Soulseek to download music from the internet. An internet service provider's servers can be seized and destroyed with no hearing if one of their customers is alleged to have infringed a copyright. Then there are the Anton Piller orders: these enable rights holders to hire private police to raid a suspect's home.

It's not clear what the current status of the bill is - late amendments restricted its power against individuals downloading for personal use.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) points out that now, anyone who infringes copyright - even unwittingly - may have his or her "assets seized, bank account frozen and home invaded".

Music industry surveys indicate that 18 per cent (that's 8 million) of us in the UK have downloaded music. Only eight per cent claim to be using legitimate pay-per download services, with the remaining 92 per cent downloading illegally. Many of us alleviate the boredom of office jobs by finding interesting music to enjoy for free during the work day.

According to the industry, 25 per cent of software in use in the UK is illegal. It argues that reducing this to 15 per cent would generate an extra £2.5bn in tax revenues and thousands of jobs in the IT sector. It claims that organised crime gangs have moved into software piracy on a large scale, and argues that tough legislation is needed to stop this. But isn't this really just another example of helping the rich get higher profit margins and forcing the working class to buy back the things it produces at even more inflated prices? Won't "tough legislation" really be used against other groups (in this case small scale downloaders) than the bogeymen that are used to manipulate the population into consenting to harsh laws, just as terrorists and football hooligans were the official targets of public order laws actually used against protesters and political groups?

The law has been passed but thanks to EU bureaucracy there's a problem - it's dependent on the EU copyright directive, not yet implemented in most member countries. Over here, unfortunately, the copyright directive has been in force since November.

As passed, the measure includes civil and administrative penalties for commercial piracy. Criminal penalties were dropped. Individual member countries are still free, however, to punish intellectual-property theft with criminal sanctions.

"The issue is to get it in people's minds that stealing intellectual property is like stealing a shirt." says Martin Selmayr, head of the Brussels office of Bertelsmann, one of the largest media companies in the world. But it's not. When you steal a track from a large corporation, they don't actually lose anything at all, except the possibility that you might have bought it from them. Industry groups say they will continue to push for criminal sanctions against intellectual-property thieves at the national level.

A few days ago, just after the passing of the new law, major record labels through their organisation the British Phonographic Industry, have been threatening freeloading music "pirates" with legal action. Much in the vein of American corporate lawyers' persecution campaigns against small children for downloading pop songs.

Spain and Poland - one an EU member, one about to be - make the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's list of the top 10 countries with piracy problems, which also includes Russia, Mexico and China (just so you know where to go to get cheap copies of the latest films before they hit the screens). Ruling class interests needed to get the law in before the Eastern European prospective states joined the EU, as piracy is very common there.

The new law is part of two worldwide trends: one being the tightening up of property laws to allow the more effective exploitation of the world's people and resources. Examples include the patenting of people's own DNA by biotech multinationals and the US's Digital Millennium Copyright and PIRATE Acts (the latter includes penalties of up to 10 years for file sharing). The second is the integration of new technologies into the state/market, increasing surveillance and repression and allowing for this with new laws like this one and the various "anti-terrorism" laws - pioneering new invasions of privacy and curbing individual independence, while increasing our dependence on the state.

Resistance is growing though, in the sphere of information just as in others - the free software movement has been a major thorn in the side of grasping software giants like Microsoft, new independent musicians appreciate and benefit from distributing their music as MP3s for free. There are many internet-based grassroots groups protecting freedom of information, attacking governments and corporations online and subverting the concepts of ownership that dominate the modern world. These include the new Hacklab at Freedom Bookshop, a space for learning how to use, sharing developing free technology and software, and independent media which is under development.

Matt Adams

Taken from Freedom, Anarchist News and Views of 3rd April 2004
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Display the following 4 comments

  1. Music Piracy — Musician
  2. More — ZZ
  3. Academic research suggests that piracy does not affect CD sales — Jumping Jack Flash
  4. just like in the 70's — Bubba