Archive for the ‘Internet Free Speech’ Category

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hosting a workshop today on “native advertising” – the practice of blending ads with news and other content in such a way to make it difficult to distinguish paid and unpaid content. The agency will tackle issues concerning the popular marketing tool’s blurred lines between advertising and editorial content. Public Citizen’s President Robert Weissman, alongside industry representatives from Buzzfeed, The Wall Street Journal and others, will speak on the panel addressing best practices in transparency and disclosure.

The use of native advertising and sponsored content – content created by or on behalf of the advertiser that “runs within the editorial stream [and] integrates into the design of the publisher’s site” – has become increasingly pervasive, as companies seek online marketing tools that are not obvious attempts to sell goods and services. A marketing research firm predicted that spending on sponsored content would rise by 22 percent between 2012 and 2013, up to $1.88 billion.

Because marketers pay for, and often create, sponsored content, and the end goal is commercial, it should be clearly labeled as advertising, pursuant to FTC disclosure rules. (Marketing industry leaders claim that sponsored content is not always advertising, so it should not be labeled as such.)

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The politics of the global knowledge economy are shifting: from mercantilism to co-operation, from closed commercial regimes toward open source. Last week, the European Parliament Committee on International Trade (INTA) passed a report recommending the rejection of the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Since the European Union (EU) and its 22 member states signed ACTA in January 2012, ACTA has caused nothing but consternation in Europe. Citizens of Poland, Bulgaria and the Germany took to the streets to show their opposition. These protests initiated a pan-European movement awakening the spirit of 1968. Young Europeans asked policy makers and politicians in Brussels to respect their rights, privacy and freedom on the Internet.

The ‘old continent’ woke up to what people in the global South have known and fought for over many years. Intellectual property (IP) is not merely a commercial or trade-related issue or something we can allow to be monopolized by corporations. It’s about us. It touches human life. IP rules can dictate how we access, disseminate and share knowledge, technology and information. They are not only about corporations and their interests. They are also about our internet freedom, privacy, scientific research, textbooks and journals, traditional and cultural knowledge, stewardship of biodiversity, arts and literature. The current orthodox IP standards, largely imposed by corporations, create exclusive controls over knowledge and information and have proved to be inadequate and frequently inappropriate in today’s knowledge-based economy.

What ACTA did – albeit inadvertently – was provide an impetus for a new vision of prioritizing people’s rights over IP fundamentalism in the 21st century. In recent decades, there has been a rush to over-regulate this relatively new and rather conceptually confusing form of property. The IP maximalist perspectives create modern juridical bureaucracies; monstrous, absurd legal procedures and protocols. From the perspective of people, the over-aggressive rules pushed through agreements like ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are understood as a declaration of war threatening personal rights and freedoms on the Internet and in our daily lives. This is why the people of Europe raised their voice to warn policy makers in Brussels about the inadequacy of the current IP maximalist model, which places IP monopolies at its heart instead of sharing or disseminating knowledge, technology or information.

The ‘war against piracy’ turned into a revolution against the corporate internet. Brussels could not stay indifferent to the outcry. First, the Committee on Legal Affairs (Juri), Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) and the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) voted to express “opinions against ACTA”. If three strikes weren’t enough, a vote in the Development Committee gave a fourth. Finally, on June 21 the trade committee (INTA) dealt a serious blow to ACTA. The INTA vote shows that European politicians increasingly understand we, the people, will not let healthcare and internet policy be dictated by a very few outdated corporate interests. Rather, we need forward-looking, flexible policies for technology, knowledge and creative works that unleash our human genius. ACTA is a retrograde policing approach to the knowledge economy: it promotes IP fundamentalism, it treats competition like criminality and the internet as a threat.

We cannot count ACTA out yet. The final voting in the European Parliament will be held on the 4th of July. The Fourth of July is an important day for Americans, which honors the birthday of the United States of America and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. But it seems that it would also be a memorable day for the Europeans, honoring the sense of European citizenship in today’s knowledge economy based on the values of individual freedom, equality, tolerance, privacy and democracy .

Thanks to Peter Maybarduk for his contributions to this post.

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Dear Neighbor:

Photo Credit: Voices from Russia

Congratulations on your inclusion in the elite group of states that are currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement! Your acceptance into this proposed “historic, 21st century trade agreement” means that much of the “burden” of making laws and regulations for your nation will be taken off of you. No worries; lobbyists for Hollywood and American pharmaceutical companies and more than 600 official “corporate trade advisers” to the Office of United States Trade Representative (USTR) will help take care of the details.

Sorry to mention it, but we’re afraid many of your laws pertaining to intellectual property (IP), affecting issues from Internet privacy to access to affordable medications, might need a little “tweaking” to ensure they comply with the specifications of U.S. corporate “advisers.” The USTR’s demands at the TPP negotiations read like a wish list from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and YOU have the opportunity to grant all their wishes.

You see, the condition the U.S. imposed for Mexico to get a seat at this corporate banquet was that Mexico agree to accept everything that the other countries already have negotiated over the past three years. Sure, NAFTA required some nasty changes to your IP laws. Remember the millions your government wasted trying to lift the U.S. patent on common yellow beans that a bio-prospector filed after NAFTA? Well, wait until you get a look at the 21st century NAFTA on steroids!

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Photo credit: Andre Kelpe, Twitter - @fs111

In light of the extensive protests of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which took place Saturday, June 9 all across Europe, Australia, and the U.S., concerns about similarities between ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have been surfacing. ACTA was signed by the U.S., Australia, Japan, Canada, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea in October 2011, quickly followed by the European Union (EU) and 22 of its member states in January 2012. Nevertheless, it faced almost immediate push-back from citizens of the EU, most notably in Poland, where crowds came out to protest ACTA in large numbers and members of Parliament wore “Anonymous” masks into the legislative chambers. The public’s outcry showed results. Four committees of the European Parliament, which must ratify ACTA for it to be adopted as EU law, recently opposed the agreement. Resistance to ACTA springs largely from copyright provisions which legal experts and Internet freedom advocates fear would lead to censorship and breaches of privacy rights. A similar treaty, the TPP Agreement, is currently being negotiated in secret by nine Asia-Pacific countries: Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Peru, the U.S., and Vietnam.

The parallels between the TPPA and ACTA are uncanny. They contain similarly harsh provisions pertaining to intellectual property rights as well as an appalling lack of transparency in the negotiations of the agreements. Many tracking the TPP say its opacity makes the ACTA process look like a pinnacle of open government in comparison. One common theme running through the accords is the United States’ insistence on stringent IP rules, largely at the behest of the entertainment, content, and pharmaceutical industries. Working through lobbying groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), these corporations work to secure draconian IP rules by influencing trade agreements such as the TPP. Other lobbying groups influencing the negotiations are PhRMA and BIO, representing the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries respectively. The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is the governmental body responsible for representing the U.S.’s interests in trade discussions. But USTR has been acting as a mouthpiece for these industries throughout the course of the TPP negotiations, advancing the interests of the 1% and ignoring the pleas of the 99%.

The European Parliament scheduled a vote on ACTA for July 3. With the upcoming 13th round of negotiations on the TPPA between member-countries to be held on July 2 – 10 in San Diego, California, there is urgent need to act to protect internet freedom and privacy and access to affordable medicines globally. While ACTA represents a blatant infringement of privacy rights and excessive IP provisions, USTR’s proposals to the TPP go even further. For example, the US-proposed IP chapter aims to lengthen, strengthen, and broaden IP monopolies, and in some areas is more heavy-handed than ACTA. The parallels between these two agreements have not gone unnoticed, and activists are using momentum against ACTA to fight TPP. The grassroots activist group “Internet Freedom Movement” recently began this page opposing the TPP, the website “” encourages visitors to write to their legislators to oppose both agreements, and the advocacy group Citizens Trade Campaign has a similar project.

Time is running out to oppose the stringent IP rules and Internet privacy infringement embedded in ACTA. But even if ACTA is vetoed in Europe, the TPP still lurks out there, threatening our due process rights, privacy, and rights on the internet. And while the future of TPP is unclear at this point, one thing is certain: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over…”

"Peter Maybarduk"The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a massive package of proposed new economic rules for the Asia-Pacific region (including the US), heavily influenced by corporate priorities through the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and under negotiation right now.  You might not have heard of it, but if it’s eventually signed, its secret texts will affect your life.

At the TPP negotiations’ official stakeholder briefing May 13th outside Dallas, USTR announced that the nine TPP country Chief negotiators together had just awarded a prize to the first negotiators to finalize their chapter: rules on small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Meanwhile, negotiators of chapters that are taking time for review and input are now getting a little punishment. For example, intellectual property negotiators who have been appropriately scrutinizing proposals that would transform their countries’ laws regarding generic medicines, internet freedom and much more, have reportedly been dragged before the assembled Chiefs more than once to face pointed questions about what’s taking so long. USTR is driving this new tactic, which even the US Chief Negotiator described as a more “heavy-handed approach.”

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