Monday 6 April 2015

The Reality About "Property", IP & Copyright Law in the 21st Century

I'll start out by saying that region control, DRM and twisting the Laws of sovereign nations to suit the desires and business models of a handful of excessively wealthy and powerful individuals, corporations, oligarchies and cabals is fundamentally immoral when it is done at the expense of people's individual "inalienable" (remember that word) rights, security and welfare. I am not a Lawyer, but I've been pushed into reading a lot more legal gibberish in EULAs and enterprise licensing agreements than I care to think about.

Those who push the anti-controls and freedom wagon will probably be feeling confident that this will be a post in support of their position. I wish it was that simple.

Before the lawyers and other corporate droids start feeling comfortable, this post doesn't support your position at all.  But then, neither is it going to bash you.  Well, not much anyway.

The sad reality of a global economy with contracts and work being flung around the world to the lowest bidder has caused a hostile shift in the way "personal wealth" works.  Oh sure, the "whoever dies with the most toys wins" is still the end game, so the currency in the bank still matters.  But how "secure" is that for any but the wealthy elite ?  It turns out "not much" is the answer.

Permit me to explain.

Yes, "net worth" is the yardstick.  But what are we measuring really?

Ignore the wealthy for the moment and focus on "Joe or Jill wage earner".  Let's ignore semantics like "contractor", "salary vs wage" and all the minor variability associated with it.  The reality today is that YOUR job is only as secure as the company you are paid by.  Nothing really new there, except for one critical factor; YOUR cost of employment is being measured against EVERY other person with the same skill set, albeit via intermediaries.  So when it comes right down to it, the "average person" has been reduced to the status of a "day labourer".

What has this to do with property Law, DRM and copyright ?

Well, put simply, no ITEM produced has any real value any more.  The rights to the design of it, it's components and in a few cases the exotic materials that go into it have value, but the worker's input is under pressure in a race to zero.  That means the ONLY items that have any globally calculable VALUE are the "rights" and associated "licenses".  For those to be maintained, some form of control is required over their value across national borders, differing currencies and the target market's cost of living.

If you're not familiar with the term, it comes from highly competitive commerce where a price war is waged until only one survives.  Frequently associated with the "loss leader" approach to marketing, but more insidious since it dives down the real value in the "value added" equation for "labour", since most other factors are constants tied to license contracts and fixed inputs.

It's those "licenses" that are the nub of this.

Ultimately, the possible companies to manufacture any end product are sought globally and pitted against each other by the company wanting the product to be supplied for sale.  In any high-cost labour market, that is a setback if the product requires any significant labour content to produce.

Ignoring exchange rates for a moment, the cost of the product as-delivered to the consumers' hands is the only factor we're interested in here.  Same goes for whoever wanted it sold in that market.  Sure, a low value currency helps, but exchange rates are like weather when it comes to predictability. Labour costs are pretty much fixed by the cost of living in the production centre's location.

This brings me back to the subject.

Enter Copyright Law and DRM (and the fundamentally evil DMCA, WTO, etc.).

As I said, the company who owns the rights wants to monetize those rights and not have them eroded by regional differences.  To ensure this they attack on 2 fronts. First and foremost, they seek to control the distributed product to ensure it cannot be reshipped and sold in a different region at a price that reduces their potential for profit in that region. Related to this is the inconsistent practice of local production and more commonly exclusive distributor profit margins.  To maintain their supply chain with maximised profit, they have to ensure that no grey marketing (or parallel imports) can occur.

From the above little story we get DRM, region locking and artificially high prices.

The second prong of their attack is to ensure that the Laws in the target country support their business practices.  Note that if they can't get that, they behave like typically spoiled children and refuse to play making the black market effectively the only market.  For countries that are members of trade agreements or are members under the WTO, the outcome is already a "fix".  Under these various tools, the requisite Laws are bound to be legislated within certain time-frames that ensure the outcome.  What's the WTO got to do with this?  Have a read of the fine print of your country's agreements with the WTO and World Bank, and also a peek at any trade agreements such as "free trade".

From the above, many countries are bound by these tools to write into Law local variations of most USA-created legal insanities like the DMCA, with specific focus on the "anti-circumvention of DRM" clauses.

Curiously, my federal government published some documents for "best practice" and "legal frameworks" (but few new Laws to give it real strength) "privacy principles".  These little gems seem like a good idea on the surface..... Then the SAME government signed into Law some truly unbelievably broad-scope Laws to perform bulk harvesting of information with no safeguards (note that the afore mentioned privacy principles have no teeth).  What makes it worse is that since BOTH of the (effectively) 2-party system voted this into Law. So there's little to no chance that it will get repealed even if we vote the current idiots out!  Not that the other idiots are much better really, but this is not about the politics. It is about the wholesale sacrificing of any privacy, security of information or security of even a well-paying job.  Forget about a career.

Now, some will say I'm being alarmist. Some will say that this was "the price we pay for security in this terrorist-infected world".  Some will say that we're better off knowing that they're doing what they've "probably been doing secretly for years".

What NOBODY seems to be saying is that our OWN governments have sold us out.  Worse than that, they are now pushing this "prepare the globalization" and having well known (domestically anyway) public speakers pushing the "news" of this down our TVs.

The screwiest thing about all this is that the unions in the developed world stood up for the rights, pay and conditions of local workers have effectively lost the only real bargaining chip they had.... "strike".  The "withdrawal of labour to protest" in the developed world is almost dead for a very good reason.  If you do, then the chances are that unless there is a legal impediment, the company may just as easily ship your job overseas to cheaper or "less unionized" locations.... Such places will exist for as long as the 3rd world exists.

But I digress....

The ONLY real property that has any value now is either real estate or IP/rights.  Even then, they can both be taken away.  Remember, it's called a "Legal System", not a "Justice System" for a reason... Usually, the person/corporation with the deepest pockets wins.

So, that's about it.  If you want to understand why the various mega-corporations that own the rights or IP are so rabid about pursuing, prosecuting and extracting excessive "damages" for infringements from individuals, then there you have it.... They're defending the ONE thing that has any sustainable value in a global market place.  The fact that they're behaving worse than a cartel or cabal and pursuing financial punishments that are totally out of balance with the "crime" is getting the headlines.

I can't say that I agree with the corporate approach, but I do understand it.

Simultaneously however, I wonder how long it will be before governments and corporations realize that the globalization of business and region locking of products to maintain business practices runs totally out of step with the global marketplace THEY created.

For my fellow wage jockies, I suggest we find a way to obtain or leverage skills that result in an income that doesn't vanish when your region becomes "too expensive to employ the local labour".

A footnote to all this.... In the ultimate end game, there will be nearly ZERO human involvement in the physical production, distribution or even sales phases for products.  When that happens, we all need to be doing something else.  Even so-called "knowledge workers" are under pressure with the rise in AI. Only the creative phase seems relatively resilient, but how many industrial designers does it take to change (the design of) a light bulb ?

PS: If you think I'm being vague and not putting names to anything or anyone, there's a reason that should be pretty obvious... I have no desire to be sued!