In the past couple of weeks, there has been enough chatter about pirates floating around the Internet to make even Captain Jack Sparrow’s head spin. From the blackout of the preferred college research site, Wikipedia, to politicians camping out with those eerie Guy Fawkes masks on, the debate over intellectual property (IP) law is getting seriously heated, and with good reason.
Whether it comes in the form of copyright infringement, pirated or counterfeit goods, IP theft is rampant. The European Commission estimates counterfeit and pirated products make up five to seven percent of world trade, but look no further than your neighbor’s MacBook, and you might find even higher statistics among your friends’ music and movie files. Recently, in order to protect IP that seems to be increasingly stolen or used illegally, both national and international acts have seen action from Congress, attempting to be pushed through by those that IP theft hurts the most like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), while also receiving negative attention from the general public. Despite the deep sympathy I feel for recording artists and movie stars missing out on royalties that make a huge difference in their million dollar pay checks, the real loss felt when IP theft grows so profusely is in innovation and creative spirit that drives economies focused on high technology. Why would anyone envision new ideas when they could easily be duplicated and stolen by someone else across the world without being given credit?
So, if IP protection is surely important for development and innovation, and not just for feeding the bank accounts of tech execs and superstar divas, the issue becomes how to create a standard in this global economy for enforcement of IP law. ACTA, the newest acronym to hit the headlines, was supposed to solve this exact problem. It has actually been in the works for quite some time, trying to determine how to enforce the rules of the game that the TRIPS agreement set out for WTO member states. However, the sketchy negotiations of the act outside of any multilateral body, vague wording and general secrecy surrounding its ratification has left it under attack in a similar manner as SOPA and PIPA were. Ron Paul has formed a petition against the act, Anonymous has tweeted the act is “the biggest threat to internet freedom” and protests are growing all around the EU after the European Parliament’s ACTA monitor resigned in an act of rejection of the manner of negotiations last week.
I can’t say that I, or anyone else for that matter, really know if ACTA will have the detrimental effects on Internet freedom it is predicted to have. I’ll admit I had better things to do on this 62-degree January day than read 25 pages of a trade agreement. What I can say is that the movements against PIPA, SOPA and ACTA have shown the true power of the Internet and the technology community, as well as how the freedom of knowledge and information has continued to expand globally. The world now connects through friend requests and fights bullying, big banks and dictators with hash tags. As the Internet reaches, and in turn empowers, more people, there is no doubt that those people who remain censored now will soon find a voice. Whether or not this also makes IP impossible to manage, however, well, I’m glad that is up to someone else to decide.