Saturday 4 July 2015

Rights! Heresy! Revolution! and The Sale of Sovereignty!

Australians were dubbed "a weird mob" many decades passed.  Until very recent years, compulsory voting was necessary in Australia because the populace were deemed so apathetic they couldn't be bothered to go to the polls on a Saturday.... at least not while the pub was still open!

While the population is aging, the attitudes of those of working age now (2015) is significantly departing from what it was in the mid-20th Century.

Critically, things that were typified as "Australian" in the late 1940s and 1950s could be summed up simply; a sense of national identity, a close kinship with fellow members of the British Commonwealth, and a healthy feeling of not taking ourselves too seriously.

Australia had become wealthy rapidly, and had "grown up". It had developed a comparatively affluent middle class, while simultaneously denying the existence of a de facto class structure with as many tears as tiers.  We deny it still, but that doesn't change the facts.

ONE THING that Australians have always been very big on is "a fair go".... yearafter year, after year.... we still cling to the ideal...

So, where am I going with this rambling essay ?   Three letters; "T" "P" "P".

For those who haven't noticed, we have had a singularly unsuccessful outcome from the decade just passed when it came to the so-called USA/Oz "Free Trade Agreement" (another 3-letter acronym... get used to that). We were sold a "pup" as the old saying goes.

Put simply, the idea of any FTA is to "level the playing field". To remove artificial barriers to trade such as tariffs, quotas or subsidies.  They are great, in theory....  Reality however is a very unforgiving stick with which to get beaten.

I've pretty well had the proverbial gutfull of my OWN Federal Government selling my country out from under my fellows and myself....

We knew various of our leaders had less spine than a jelly fish.

We knew that the "electoral farce" that passes for "democracy" here tends to favor whoever has the biggest bank roll (kinda like our Legal, not "justice", System).

We also knew that on more than one occasion, our "allies" (not just the USA, but the UK, France, etc.) have at some point played us for fools.  More than once they have decided that something they wanted was something best not done in their own backyards, so they used ours... Maralinga, Bikini Atoll.... and when we complained, they reacted badly... Whitlam dismissal.

We let the USA & UK lead us by the nose into a war that was not ever going to end well for anyone. Not once. Not twice. But thrice!

Before anyone reacts to that, I should emphasize that I support our troops, but not the fools that send them to fight and die.

So, what's this got to do with the "TPP" ?

You may want to read the details yourself (Yes, the "privileged few" and "fools with power" are the only "supporters".) ;

Disturbingly, even an "apologists view" highlights concerns that non-USA citizens are voicing.  That situation is only made worse when the same newspaper cites ; "[people] who believe in [National] sovereignty should be outraged that ISDS would shift power from [Nation's] courts".  Yes, the [...] bits are substitutions I made to make a point. In the original article, the focus at this point is on the USA, but the substitution of any group of [people]" from any "[Nation]" is part of the collateral damage that the TPP carries.

Now, I should point out that I like the "theory" of America, just as I like the "theory" of the "plucky Brit" and all that goes with being part of "The Empire" (even one on the wane). Critically, there are a LOT of things about both the USA and the UK to like, and a LOT of "normal people" (however you want to define that) in both countries.

So, this is NOT an exercise in "America bashing".  (Not even really about "corporate bashing".)

Consider:  As I type this on my American web site, using my Taiwanese designed & Chinese built laptop, in my cosy home in middle-class Australia, paid for by a pay packet from my corporate overlord, while collecting data from all over the British-invented WWW, hosted on the American-military invented Internet, the "irony" of the statements in this post are not lost on me....

However, "all that glisters is not golden", and not all amenities and conveniences are worth the price.

While writing this, I seriously considered; "If I emigrated to escape the fools in Canberra, where would I go?".  The sad truth is, even the country whose lobbyists and major corporations are behind this piece of mind-numbing insanity (the TPP), even THAT country (the USA) is no a safe haven nor even a place where democracy is "healthy". Their own populace and press are questioning the merits of this Hell-for-leather push to get this agreement into place!

Let me sum it up in a few simple dot-points.

  • Entrenches the ability for corporations to impose their Law on the Nation State
  • Grants sweeping powers to corporations to sue governments
  • Extends the ability for the export/imposition of American Law internationally
  • Prevents Nation States from creation of Laws to protect individual rights
  • Creates a pseudo-legal system outside International Law
  • Further neuters the UN as a force for promotion of "inalienable human rights"
  • Places Corporate profit above National interest

Even for the most rabid pro-American "USA! USA! USA!", extreme-right, gun toting "good ol' boy", this new "agreement" is bad news.... unless of course you're family is one of the "privileged few".

Back to the title of this post...

  • Heresy: Would Australia be better off becoming one or more additional states of the USA ?  People have fought and died to keep this a sovereign nation. (No, not like the American War of Independence. I know that!  And yes, I checked that article.... it wasn't April 1st!)

  • Revolution: How much more corporate oppression will Joe Citizen (key word there) accept before once more the rally to the flag to throw off the yoke of the oppressors ?  And if such a call went out, which side would the armed forces and Law enforcement groups take ?  More pointedly, would a "popular uprising" actually take hold in Australia ?

They took away (most of) our arms.  They limited or revoked our Rights to free speech and and freedom of assembly and association.  They eliminated avenues under the Law to defend ourselves.  Now they seek to export our remaining democratic rights to foreign corporations.

For the "TLDR;" brigade, it means that the "megacorp of most dystopian futures is on your doorstep, NOW". So what are you going to do about it ?

I for one, am voting with my wallet. Those of you who know me personally, know that this is (weirdly) "normal" for me, so I'm signing up for petitions and membership to lobby groups. It may be too late to stem the hemorrhaging of Rights completely, but if I do nothing, I have nobody to blame but myself when the worst case scenario finally comes to pass.

Question is, what will you do ?  Anything ?

If not, I hope you like our new corporate-and-unelected overlords...

As the men in my family have said (misquoting) for some generations now.... "I may not agree with you, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it."

Footnote: As usual, courtesy of some of the noted points above, I have intentionally not named any parties, nor expressly cited or implied any wrongdoing under the Law.... primarily to steer clear of any libel or defamation lawsuits... All copyrighted material linked or referenced is the property of the relevant entities or persons.

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!