This is a first for Debating Europe. We’ve interviewed over 350 politicians, academics, journalists, civil servants and business leaders, but last week’s interview with Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason marks our first foray into the world of rock music. As well as being (his words!) an “old and wrinkly rock drummer”, Mason is also the co-chairman of the Featured Artists’ Coalition (FAC). We caught up with him at last week’s Pan-European Forum on Media Pluralism and New Media in Brussels, and put a couple of your comments to him on the subject of digital piracy.
It’s a topical issue, because later this week MEPs are due to vote on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in the European Parliament. The vote, which takes place on 4 July, will likely see the Socialists, Liberals and Greens ally against the centre-right European People’s Party to “finish off” ACTA. However, it could still be a close vote and, even if ACTA is defeated in the Parliament, it’s likely that work will begin on some sort of international legislative framework to replace it.
We’ve already published several posts on the topic of ACTA, including interviews with Sergei Stanishev, Interim President of the Party of European Socialists (PES); Ante Wessels, analyst for the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFI); and Christian Engström, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Swedish Pirate Party. Many of your comments reacting to these posts have been critical of ACTA. Jesper, for example, sent in a comment arguing that:
In the previous century, there was a period of about 60 to 70 years during which there was sufficiently advanced technology to sustain the current business model for the record industry. But it looks like those days are now behind us thanks to even more advanced technology. No amount of legislation will change this – it is literally impossible to turn this tide unless you introduce constant surveillance.
We put this comment to Nick Mason for his reaction. Is the rise of digital piracy merely a case of changing business models?
Next, we had a question from Paul arguing that:
Intellectual property rights are, and should be, discussed, agreed and implemented through the far more open discussions of the World Trade Organisation.
When internet regulation affects users globally (as it inevitably does), wouldn’t international organisations (such as the United Nations or the World Trade Organisation) be more appropriate forums than multilateral discussions involving a limited number of countries?
Earlier this year, we also interviewed Angela Mills Wade, Executive Director of the European Publishers Council, and asked her to respond to some of your comments on ACTA. How would she react to Paul’s comment about the WTO being a better forum for discussing the issue of global intellectual property rights?
Well, I think you have to start somewhere. Maybe, if we had known with the benefit of hindsight how this was going to have gone, maybe there was another way. But I don’t think there was anything improper about the way it was done. And it was using the EU, the US and other ways of coordinating; I don’t think it’s wrong, per se.
But it’s not going to go away. If ACTA, for some reason, isn’t signed up, there will have to be a global solution for dealing with common procedures for copyright infringement. It’s not the substance that’s wrong, and I don’t think the way it was done is wrong, and if people want to criticise it on that basis, I think that’s a pity because it actually loses sight of what we’re trying to do.
We had some critical comments come in about the way ACTA was negotiated. Otto, for example, sent us the following: “[ACTA] was negotiated in secret behind our backs and doesn’t serve the interests of the people of Europe but that of a few (mostly US) corporations.”
I don’t agree with that, really. I think there was actually quite a lot of information about it as it went through, and it’s not as if it’s actually establishing anything new in terms of the law. I can see if people felt that this was actually going to be changing the law or establishing new laws, then perhaps some of the criticisms might be valid. But, actually, all it’s doing is establishing a common proceedure for dealing with not just copyright but all sorts of IP infringements across countries. And, I think actually it will have a positive impact on protecting Europe’s industries and jobs. Not what we’ve been hearing from the sometimes rather vitriolic criticisms from other parties.
Finally, we also had a comment come in from Peter questioning whether we really need a new legal framework to deal with copyright infringement. He argues that: “Our legal system and national laws on protection of intellectual property are ample and sufficient to weed out abuses that occur. Focus on abuses should be a good enough tool.”
I think it operates on two layers, and arguably the law of copyright is sufficient, but the way it’s enforced perhaps isn’t, and the way in which we manage our rights doesn’t necessarily do us all the biggest favour ever. But what ACTA is doing is just providing common procedures for dealing with the infringements at a global level. And we are, after all, especially with the internet, at a global level. It’s a global market, so I think you do need procedures to do these things in a coherent fashion.
Your commenter is right in the sense that we have the right laws and the right tools, but we’re actually not using them to the best of our abilities, so these sorts of international treaties do help. And they certainly send important messages to other countries, and to Europe’s workforce, that our rights have to be protected in practice and that Europe isn’t going to fall behind other countries in this regard. I think this is a really crucial moment, and if Europe and Europe’s governments fail to stand up for the rights and the laws that are in place, where on Earth are we going?
What do YOU think? Will the European Parliament vote to scrap ACTA? And, if they do, what should replace it? Do we need an international legal framework to manage intellectual property rights globally? Or are all attempts to do so doomed to failure, as new technology makes old business models redundant? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts (and rock stars!) for their reactions.