Jack Yan
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The Persuader

My personal blog, started in 2006.



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22.11.2011

Intellectual property doesn’t deserve a black mark, but some powers-that-be do

After being interviewed about the outcome of the ‘Wellywood’ sign vote yesterday (a summary of what I told Newstalk ZB can be found on my Facebook fan page) I was reminded about how a few Wellingtonians, who supported my quest to stop the sign in 2010 and 2011, were not that thrilled that I used intellectual property law as my technique.
   Those following this in 2010 and 2011 might remember that I was the person who called up the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Hollywood Sign Trust, and was, last year, the mayoral candidate most active in trying to stop Wellington Airport from erecting the sign at the Miramar cutting. This year, with no local election to be concerned about, I remained active, more so upon seeing just how arrogant the Airport’s “leadership” was, before it flip-flopped again by saying that it should consult with the public (the same public it called insignificant weeks before).
   And yet, months later, I was also miffed about the Copyright Act amendments and the introduction of the “three strikes” law, one which the Government seems to be uncertain about as it supports it at home, and opposes it at the United Nations.
   This is not a populist about-turn on my part. I have a view of intellectual property which was refined in part by my time at law school, where I sat the first IP paper offered formally by Victoria University, and my work for TypeRight, the advocacy organization, which wound up winning an award from Publish magazine in the US. This experience leaned toward copyright, more than trade mark and patent, though I secured reasonable experience in TMs working in brand consulting and acting as an expert witness. Through that exposure, I began with the classical argument that the protection of authors, and rewarding them, are good things. No protection, no incentive.
   But, this must be balanced by the rule of law. What we had before the latest amendments to the Copyright Act already worked. Copyright owners could, indeed, pursue infringers, and a plaintiff and a defendant could fairly be represented in a tribunal. It would be up to the copyright owner to front up with a statement of claim, and they had better be ready with sufficient proof to make the case air-tight—just as any other plaintiff in a New Zealand court would require. That seems fair. I have relied on American law often when it came to pursuing piracy of our articles, and, again, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act there worked well in giving both sides a fair hearing without the presumption of guilt.
   As argued in some depth in 2009, and again in 2011, the three-strikes law—which, I might note, the PM was against before he was for, as was the Hon Peter Dunne MP—puts the power firmly in the hands of the copyright owner, so that a defendant has to discharge the presumption of guilt. A copyright owner, as we have learned, can get an ISP to do its dirty work in New Zealand, sending out infringement notices to its customers. Whatever I learned in that IP class at uni, I had always believed the law would take place in a fair forum, and that the common-law presumption of innocence would always stand. What is happening here runs counter to that idea.
   To be fair and balanced here, I should note that the law was proposed under Labour, and received the support of Labour when argued in Parliament, which makes me wonder whether the duty of being Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition was fulfilled properly during the debates.
   Such laws, unfortunately, do the idea of copyright no credit. They have sullied the good work that copyright has done in most of our recent history by protecting those who sought it, and deserved it. I think of those who were in the typeface design business with me, who opted to protect their works. Some designers only make a few dozen dollars per annum from a font that might have taken them six weeks to produce. Typically, $300 is a figure I hear for a design that doesn’t make the big time—and the majority do not, just like in music.
   European Commission VP for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, told the Forum d’Avignon on November 19 a similar story: ’97·5 pe rcent of one of the biggest collecting society’s members in Europe receive less than … €1,000 a month for their copyright works.’
   As reported in The Register, ‘Kroes said, copyright as it now stands is failing to deliver the economic rewards that are supposed to be its aim. At the same time, “citizens increasingly hear the word copyright and hate what is behind it. Many see the current system as a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool to recognize and reward.”’
   The Register concludes:

In the context of the public’s increasing resistance to punitive measures such as America’s SOPA, New Zealand’s three-strikes disconnection notice regime, the acrimonious “iiTrial” in Australia (backed by the MPAA via its local sockpuppet AFACT), it’s also interesting to note that Kroes mentions the intermediary business just once in her speech – since, at least to The Register, it seems that most of the public’s hatred of copyright appears to stem from how the intermediaries approach it.

   The distinction needs to be drawn. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. What we should be weary of are not just the intermediaries as The Register notes, but some of the parties who inspire, lobby and even offer to draft these laws. It seems those parties are often those who care little for the thoughts of the community, whether it be an Airport CEO, or politicians who are so inept at understanding their subject they confuse fact with fiction.
   While I will not be drawn on who will get my electorate and party votes for this General Election, the behaviour of some of the powers-that-be seem to support those who claim that we no longer live in democracies in the occident, but plutocracies.

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