Thursday, January 26, 2012

Winning a battle, Losing a war

It was a big win for the internet last week when the SOPA and PIPA bills were shelved by Congress, effectively ending the fight to keep the internet free. Well, not exactly.

You see, while SOPA and PIPA were big victories, the big picture is that America has already sold out to corporate interests when it comes to the internet. But it's not just the internet. It's the patent process, it's anything that can be marketed and owned. In fact, the war has already been won world-wide, we just haven't noticed.

The war over the freedom of information was lost at the hands of ACTA, which stands for Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Back in 2007, ACTA was passed by the EU, the US, and a number of other countries as a way to control copyrighted and trademarked material, specifically intellectual property. However, ACTA also encompassed things like name-brand medication, GMOs, and other items used by the public, meaning those who owned these items could shut down generic alternatives and start-up competitors. As the article linked above by E.D. Kain remarks, "Worse, it appears to go much further than the internet, cracking down on generic drugs and making food patents even more radical than they are by enforcing a global standard on seed patents that threatens local farmers and food independence across the developed world."

So, what can we do about ACTA? Unlike SOPA and PIPA, it's already been on the books for several years. It has likely had a hand in companies like Monsanto taking over entire industries by using it as carte blanche to shut down smaller competitors and makers of generic alternatives. In the case of Monsanto, a company that controls roughly 98% of our nation's corn production, small independent farmers have been hauled into court for planting corn that has been mixed with Monsanto's product, whether accidentally or on purpose. It's possible that a bird could have dropped a Monsanto seed in a farmer's field, or that a Monsanto worker deliberately tossed a seed in with the rest. It doesn't matter in either case, because ACTA allows Monsanto to shut down that farm simply because the farmer had a Monsanto corn crop in their field.

There really is nothing that can be done, short of completely overwhelming Congress with activists who will stop ACTA cold. The problem is, many groups that benefit from the law are likely the same ones that are bankrolling political campaigns. It also doesn't help that most Americans didn't know that ACTA was passed at the time. I don't remember seeing any headlines for it, or hearing any public discussion on it.

Life has gone on pretty much as it did though, right? Possibly. But the ACTA law has certainly contributed to the growing stress on new businesses trying to make it in the marketplace, or the growing power of major corporations. With laws like ACTA, the government has the ability to shut down any website or business that they think violates copyrights. That's a lot of power, and in the wrong hands or with the wrong influence, it is a cornerstone of oppression. I hope that more people learn about ACTA, and try to fight it off as best they can. Unfortunately, it may be too late.

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