I realize that it is common practice come this time of year for us to all sit back and ruminate over all the wonderful and earthshaking things we have written about in the past year and to delve into the murky depths of the future and prognosticate using our incredibly sharp intellect what will happen in the year to come. Well I can’t stand doing that except in very rare occasions – and this is one of those years.
I’m not going to bother looking back because other than increasing pageviews possibly for all of a minute or two it is a boring and pointless exercise mainly because the majority of time, regardless of how we might spin our past words, we’re wrong. No, what I want to do is to look to 2010 and the one thing that will have the most profound effect on our lives and the Web.
It’s a prediction that will come as a result of events that have been happening for some time now but really has culminated in 2009 to create a foundation from which how we use the Web and what we can do there will be forever changed. Changed in such away that we will no longer have the freedoms that we brag about today and seem to think are some sort of inalienable right.
So here’s my one and only prediction for 2010:
This will be the year in which we will see the biggest assault on copyright laws around the world. The end result of the secret war against copyright laws and the consumer will be one of the total annihilation of our copyright laws as we know them.
Sure we have all read posts about how the entertainment industry is trying to get changes made to existing copyright laws in various countries and the response has for the most part been a big *YAWN* and then it’s on to whining and gushing respectively over Twitter and Facebook. The problem is that the movement to gut existing copyright laws, being led by the US entertainment industry, is only a shadow of the real effort that will supersede any local country laws.
This is all being done behind closed doors where even government officials are being required to sign NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreements). Yes, NDAs on the creation of a new global treaty – something that has never been done before because laws and treaties are suppose to be open to public examination and input. This isn’t the case with theAnti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) however.
Don’t let the “Anti-Counterfeiting” part fool you either because in reality very little of this global trade agreement has anything to do with fighting piracy and has everything to do with dismantling individual country copyright laws and replacing it with a Universal Trade Agreement. The reason for this backdoor approach is because any and all local country laws would basically have no standing in disputes as they would be governed by the UN/WIPO backed ACTA treaty.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation on ACTA (emphasis is mine):
In October 2007 the United States, the European Community, Switzerland and Japan simultaneously announced that they would negotiate a new intellectual property enforcement treaty, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA. Australia, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Mexico, Jordan, Morocco, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Canada have joined the negotiations. Although the proposed treaty’s title might suggest that the agreement deals only with counterfeit physical goods (such as medicines), what little information has been made available publicly by negotiating governments about the content of the treaty makes it clear that it will have a far broader scope, and in particular, will deal with new tools targetting “Internet distribution and information technology”.
Professor Michael Geist, Canadian Professor and Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, has been one of the lone voice foretelling of the dangers to come with ACTA. You can read all his posts on ACTA here, but here are a few snippets:
Given the recent backlash at WIPO, the U.S. is avoiding the U.N. system. Instead, it has created a new counterfeiting coalition of the willing that includes the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, and Canada. Those countries yesterday simultaneously announced enthusiastic support for a new trade agreement with negotiations to begin next year. Indeed, International Trade Minister David Emerson’s announcement to the House of Commons brought the MPs to their feet.
This treaty could ultimately prove bigger than WIPO – without the constraints of consensus building, developing countries, and civil society groups, the ACTA could further reshape the IP landscape with tougher enforcement, stronger penalties, and a gradual eradication of the copyright and trademark balance.
Rather than negotiating in an international venue such as the United Nations and opening the door to any interested countries, ACTA partners consisted of a small group of countries (Canada, United States, European Union, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Morocco, and Singapore) meeting in secret and opposed broadening the process. The substance of the treaty was also accorded the highest level of secrecy. Draft documents were not released to the public and even the locations of negotiations were often kept under wraps. In fact, the U.S. government refused to disclose information about the treaty on national security grounds.
While the substance of the treaty will remain fodder for much debate, Canadian officials recently hosted a public consultation during which they acknowledged the true motivation behind the ACTA. Senior officials stated that there were really two reasons for the treaty. The first, unsurprisingly, was concerns over counterfeiting. The second was the perceived stalemate at WIPO, where the growing emphasis on the Development Agenda and the heightened participation of developing countries and non-governmental organisations have stymied attempts by countries such as the United States to bull their way toward new treaties with little resistance.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the assault against copyright laws. It is an attack that is taking place around the world: Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the US just to name a few. It is an attack that is taking place behind closed doors under a shroud of secrecy that is being enforced through never before seen NDAs at all levels.
It is planned that all these secret negotiations taking place will finish in 2010 and the world will be presented with a new world wide copyright/IP treaty that has been written and bullied through all levels of individual country governments by the US entertainment industry and their trade groups around the world.
If we think the copyright systems we have in each of our country is draconian I can promise you this – you ain’t seen nothing and if you don’t think this fight over copyright laws isn’t important then you sincerely need to give your head a shake. Under the provisions, that we know of from leaks, of ACTA we will see a sudden shift of power on the Internet. It will no longer be a medium of the people but instead it will be the new money machine of the entertainment industry and any voices against them will suddenly find themselves silenced and bereft of any legal recourse.
It won’t be our Internet anymore. So think about that as you all get woodies about how important Twitter is. Think about it as you bicker over whether RSS is dead, whether blogging is dead, or whether real-time search is the next killer app.
I would like to think that people are smart enough to see the coming danger – especially those of us in the tech industry – and do something to stem this tide. Sadly though we’re too worried about some new shiny toy. Too worried that we don’t have enough followers. Too worried about whether we are among the first to be using some stupid ass service.
The really sad part about this?
I don’t see it changing.