It's no secret that the copyright lobby exerts an undue influence in shaping Internet policy. But the mechanisms by which that happens—which can include not just the legislative bodies of dozens of countries, but also backroom, off the record dealings—can be confusing and opaque, even to people following it closely.
In a new book out this month, A Copyright Masquerade, veteran journalist Dr. Monica Horten goes deep into those details to detail how the entertainment industries gain political sway, and how policymakers respond to the industry's advances.
Horten focuses on three recent policy initiatives, and painstakingly pulls together facts from publicly available sources about how those proposals came together. By comparing the development of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the Spanish "Ley Sinde," and the UK's Digital Economy Act, she draws a clear picture of the mechanisms that play into each of the debates, and who is behind them.
A major part of that story is the export of United States intellectual property policy abroad. To that end, Horten looks at the history and the development of the U.S. Trade Representative's annual "Special 301" report, a document mandated by law which must list countries that do not provide “adequate and protective” protection of intellectual property rights. Horten makes a solid case that U.S. entertainment industry lobbying played a direct and deliberate role in establishing the Special 301. With that background on Special 301, its role in shaping ACTA and Ley Sinde becomes that much more apparent.
Legislators are asked to approach many problems as experts but are rarely given the time or information to do so. The standard corporate exploitation of that mismatch is to present those legislators with information favorable to the industry position.
Horten tracks how the copyright industries have taken this bargain a step further, pushing for the creation of whole new structures like the Special 301 report that funnel industry-friendly information to legislators with the imprimatur of government legitimacy.
Moreover, that system itself has been refined over the years to create a default condition that advances the copyright lobby's goals. At the behest of the copyright industries, the U.S. Trade Representative must critique laws all over the world to a maximalist IP standard; as a result of its findings, countries around the globe are put under great pressure to change those laws.
While documenting this process, Horten provides meticulous footnotes that point to public documents and legislative proceedings. Beyond providing sources, these footnotes reveal a history of otherwise uncaptured expertise: many cite live web streams of policy debates dating back years, watched by Horten at the time.
The landscape Horten describes may be bleak for those who would like to see evidence-based copyright policy, but it's not hopeless. After all, each of the major case studies she documents have been diminished, delayed, or defeated by popular opposition. Money and connections play a major role in politics, but few politicians can afford to ignore real and widespread dissatisfaction. A Copyright Masquerade is no handbook for activism, but it does describe effectively what political pressure points activists have been able to successfully press.
And in presenting the stories of activism that have slowed or stopped proposals that had the full backing of the copyright industries, Horten raises an important question. What is so compelling about copyright policy that it gets Internet users up in arms, draws resignations from EU officials, and leads to street protests in actual freezing temperatures?
Again, Horten's got an answer. It's a familiar one to those versed in copyright debates. Whether the copyright industries are seeking measures that filter content (like blacklisting sites from Domain Name Servers, search engines, or payment providers) or measures that restrict user access (like graduated response programs that result in a slow-down or suspension of Internet connections), the effect is the same. When the Internet as a communications medium is the target, users' essential freedoms and civil liberties are all too often collateral damage.
A Copyright Masquerade can verge on academic, but it remains engaging. At times, the legislative history (and the scandal involved) even has elements of intrigue. But most importantly, it's extremely informative and demystifying, right from the first page's handy table of common acronyms. For those interested in the structures that influence copyright policy around the world, Horten's book will prove a valuable resource.