Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why copyright if climate change is so serious?

I don't have a formal article to post, but I have some ideas I want to get out there to be discussed. Please respond to this post as my hope is to get a thread going, and to see what other people think.

I was at the OpenConcept 10'th anniversary on Friday, and one of the people I bumped into is Mike Kaulbars. He was Rina's TA back at Carleton, and I know him from PERC. He is someone who is now dedicating much of his time to climate change, and if you read or listen to him he is not optimistic.

While there are some who disagree with the scientists, I'm not one of them. I believe we are in a global experiment that we can't predict, and that will have dire consequences for our species. I don't personally think we are talking about extinction level event, but given how fragile our societies and economies are I expect disruptions far greater than anything we have ever seen in our past. It would be understating the issue to compare it to a world war as I believe it may include a world war as one of the geopolitical components.

Like many Canadians, I'm embarrassed with our participation. The news always includes articles such as Guardian: Scientists target Canada over climate change where prominent campaigners, politicians and scientists have called for Canada to be suspended from the Commonwealth over its climate change policies. I do not consider this to be a partisan issue given both the Liberals and Conservative parties who have governed federally are generally asleep at the wheel, with individual MPs and party members who are aware (Dion, etc) being the exception rather than a rule.

I believe that climate change and other environmental impacts should be seen as a form of debt that some economies have accumulated. This is why I subscribe to the idea that it is the economies that borrowed the most who should be the ones paying it down. This means that while I believe the majority-world countries (BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China) should be participants in global treaties, that their participation should be nearly entirely financed by the allegedly "richest" countries (IE: the ones that borrowed the most).

It would simply be wrong and unsustainable in my mind to suggest that countries who had borrowed the least should be denied the ability to develop their economies, while allowing the most indebted countries to remain allegedly "rich".

I say unsustainable as I believe if this nonsense is perpetuated that it will lead to escalating conflicts between the indebted countries and the rest of the world. The earlier steps will be at a level of trade which may decimate the indebted economies, and later stages involving warfare. I can't imagine the rest of the world allowing North Americans to continue to drive SUVs as we head into global food security issues without a few weapons (possibly including nukes given some of those countries are nuclear capable) being aimed at those SUVs.

There are a few ways to minimise this inevitable conflict. The simplest is for the debt repayment to be done nearly entirely financially. This would involved indebted countries paying large portions of their (likely declining) GDP towards not only their own emission reductions but the reductions of less indebted countries. For those silly people who thought that the Green Shift was going to impact the economy, this will have a far more profound impact -- as should be expected of those in massive debt.

Another less discussed, but critical part of the solution is knowledge transfer. Some of the emissions reductions will come from the use and improvement of more energy efficient technologies.

I am of the belief that part of the debt needs to be paid in the form of nullifying some exclusive rights that would otherwise have royalties going to the most indebted counties (Not coincidentally over 50% of worldwide royalties flow into the United States). Majority-world countries should be able to (without permission or payment) implement and improve on any technology which would either directly reduce their emissions, or indirectly help them in further technological development (IE: information and communications technology).

This would mean to me that while art and entertainment could be royalty bearing (for those who chose that method of compensation), that scientific, medical and technological knowledge would not require permission or payment to the most indebted nations (their citizens, their corporations). This would include no longer taking seriously any request from the less critical parts of the economy (IE: arts and entertainment) trying to dictate features or access to these more critical developments. This would include, but not be limited to, making the two locks of DRM illegal rather than legally protected. It would also include rejecting any law that might threaten someone's access to information technology simply because of the de-minimus offence of not paying entertainment industry fees (3-strikes and other such hypocritical nonsense).

This type of mandate would be consistent with how some of these most indebted nations became allegedly "rich". The United States did not honour foreign copyright until relatively recently, allowing their domestic publishing industry to be built first.

I feel that once countries representing a majority of the worlds population have royalty-free access to the knowledge of the most indebted countries that it will simply make good economic sense for those indebted countries to adopt peer production techniques for their own knowledge development in these scientific and technical areas. It would make no sense to stick with an outdated property-based incentive system inside western countries while the rest of the world moves forward even faster using peer production.

A gradual change in geopolitics has ties to why ACTA (the Orwellian double-speak labelled Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) exists at all. The policy thinking is the same as the 1995 National Information Infrastructure: new technology threatens older business models, so the new technology should be crippled. NII failed within the USA, so the special interest groups (which includes USTR/USPTO which are under regulatory capture) took the policy to WIPO which came out with the so-called "Internet" treaties in 1996. Fast forward to today when the majority world countries have recognised that WIPO should be working for them and this same type of backward-facing policy is no longer able to be pushed through WIPO. The special interest groups then move to bypass WIPO and create yet another institution to push their backward policy, which is ACTA.

Put in the context of the rest of this article it is obvious that I believe this thinking is backwards.

First is that while I believe that some specific intermediaries are being made redundant by new technology, that these changes overall benefit individual artists and entertainers more than it hurts. It does represent a change, but an insignificant change for our storytellers compared to the larger changes they have already gone through (IE: the advent of the technology to record audio and video, or print books), and even less significant than the changes society as a whole will be going through as a result of changes in the natural world.

The second is that even if I could be convinced that new communications technology would wipe out commercial arts and entertainment that I would consider it a small price to pay. We need to act globally to solve some pretty critical global problems, and it is inconceivable to me that we would reduce the effectiveness of and access to communications technology simply to allow commercial entertainment to exist.

Short-term we need to push politicians to abandon the dishonesty of ACTA, instead focusing on quickly modernising WIPO to fulfil its mandate as a UN special agency. If WIPO can't be made to fulfil this mandate then it should be replaced with a new agency that is able to, and disband WIPO. This agency would become the appropriate agency to move forward on exclusive rights policy that is consistent with health and climate necessities, which would be a major expansion of the works already done under the title of Development Agenda.