Enabling ACTA

Five years ago today, we lost Chris Lightfoot. Chris and I shared an interest in the interface between technology and politics, and I have been writing a long essay in his memory about this subject.

The reason I care about this is that ten years ago, I was involved in campaigning against the European Copyright Directive. This campaign was an utter failure, but it got me thinking: the process which gave rise to this law was worse than the law itself. Laws about intellectual property start as treaties, become EU Directives, then become part of national law. Two rounds of unscrutinised diplomatic wrangling have taken place before any democratically accountable body gets a look-in.

In the early 2000s, you weren’t allowed to talk about this, because it implied that the EU was incorrigibly undemocratic and guaranteed to pass dreadful laws. For most people, these IP treaties were evidence that IP policy was made very badly. For me, they were evidence that the constitutions of Western democracies could effectively be bypassed.

The latest of these IP treaties is ACTA. When we demonstrated against the Copyright Directive in 2001, there were 35 of us. Today in London there was an anti-ACTA demo with around 300 people at it (in Germany, 100000 demonstrated). The change was not just the numbers. I was called up to take the megaphone and harangue the crowd about the iniquity of IP treaties (you can see me in the background here around 2:00), and people were very receptive to the message that it’s the treaty process which is the problem, and provisions of ACTA which are the symptom. That’s encouraging progress. All the media coverage shows the activists hammering this point home.

The system of unscrutinised inter-executive dealmaking we dignifiy with the term “international law” is due for scrap with democracy.

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