International Relations Technology

ACTA: Secret Anti-Piracy Negotiations Unveiled

Piracy graffiti in Sweden (cc Thobias Vemmenby)
Piracy graffiti in Sweden (cc Thobias Vemmenby)

It seems like ACTA negotiators have finally gone one step in the direction of transparency. After a week of negotiations in Wellington (NZ), they announced on Friday that the draft treaty would be made public next Wednesday. Or maybe they just learned their lesson after repeated leaks.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has been in the making for over two years behind closed doors. The new treaty aims to improve “global standards for the enforcement of [Intellectual Property Law], to more effectively combat trade in counterfeit and pirated goods,” according to the EU Commission.

As you might expect, the negotiating parties are a western club (US, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the EU and Switzerland) with a few ‘like-minded’ friends (Singapore, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco).

ACTA has faced a storm of criticism from internet users. Here is a little summary of the main issues at stake:

New Media Technology

“Library Trend Watch”

Discussing the future of libraries at the 11th InetBib Conference / photo: Ralph A Stamm, ISN

If you think librarians are old-fashioned people dressed in checkered shirts, I tell you: they’re not. At least not those attending the 11th InetBib Conference.

I entered an auditorium populated by people sitting with computers on their laps, listening, thinking and twittering about the future of libraries. Encouraged by an atmosphere of open discussion and criticism, participants would, from time to time, raise their voice and challenge the presenter’s views.

For the session I attended this morning, the organizers invited five people to give five-minute presentations on technological trends that might influence the future of libraries. “Let’s look into the crystal ball,” Patrick Danowski, the moderator, said. Fittingly, his introductory talk was entitled “Library Trend Watch”.

Dr. Rudolf Mumenthaler from ETH Library, talked about the future of e-readers. He argued that only multifunctional tablets such as iPad will become popular, with classic e-book readers remaining a niche product. It is the libraries’ job to provide their users with electronic content, on which they could cooperate with publishers.

Christian Hauschke from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Hannover, talked about Linked Open Data. He called on libraries to open access to their bibliographical information and follow the four principles of linked data.

Andreas Kahl introduced us to Google Wave, an open-source collaboration tool currently under development. Wave would allow librarians to log themselves into the work process of students and make suggestions like: Have you considered this source? At the same time, Google Wave allows users to delegate certain processes to the machine, such as including biographical references.

Culture Elections

Back to the 80s? Bring Them On!

80s sneaker wallpaper / photo: roberlan, flickr

One fine Manic Monday, election campaign strategists of the British Labour Party put out an ad admonishing voters: “Don’t let him [David Cameron] take Britain back to the 1980s.”

But weren’t the 1980s supposed to be The Best of Times?

At least we of Generation Y tend to think so. Back in the 80s, we were not yet so politically aware. Some of us played with Barbie dolls (you guessed it: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun), others practiced the Moonwalk, watched Alf or kept ourselves busy growing mullets – yes, Madonna said so: “Express Yourself“.

Actually, we do not necessarily associate the 1980s with rampant greed, a growing economic gap, poverty, unfettered capitalism, a roll-back of the welfare state and the looming threat of nuclear extinction.

Rather, we think of 80s rock: big hair; Dirty Dancing; a booming stock market; pegged jeans; neon colors; Money for Nothing – all, baby, Hurts So Good!

The New York Times recently commented on Hillary Clinton’s voluminous hairstyle, suspiciously resembling the big bumpy hair donned by women in the (presumably conservative) 80s. And that coming from a Democrat! (But then again, Obama these days is often compared to Ronald Reagan – a Democrat version of the Reagan phenomenon, that is.)

The Tories skillfully responded to the Labour ad, playing on the 1980s nostalgia. They released a slightly modified version of the Labour poster portraying Mr Cameron as Gene Hunt from the BBC’s popular Ashes To Ashes series. Come’on, the 80s weren’t that Bad after all!

So the moral of this campaign flop is: if you want to invoke bad memories of conservative politics in Britain, don’t use the culturally rather successful 1980s to make your point.

I hope Labour has learned its lesson; otherwise, it will turn out to be a very Cruel Summer for Gordon Brown’s party.

Culture Technology

Talking Intellectual Property This Week

Private property sign on unlocked door / photo: great sea, flickr

Intellectual property rights (IPR) were originally created to promote the advancement of science and the arts.

But does today’s IPR system serve the public good?

Our weekly theme this week tries to bring out the intense polarization of the debate over the purpose and usefulness of today’s intellectual property rights system.

Professor Ian Angell from the LSE provides an Analysis of the current state of IPR, arguing that IP legislation has become highly protectionist, stifles innovation and hinders free market competition.

In our podcast interview, patent attorney John Moetteli counters Angell’s main argument and explains how the patent system indeed encourages innovation in a competitive, capitalist system.

Security Watch articles about ‘green’ technology patents, the futility of digital rights management and much more.

Publications housed in our Digital Library, including analyses of IP-related issues in international trade agreements.

Primary Resources, including the WTO TRIPS Agreement.

Links to relevant websites, among them a database that provides access to national copyright and related rights legislation of UNESCO member states.

Our IR Directory with relevant organizations, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).


UK Foreign Policy After Brown

UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron at the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland / Remy Steinegger, flickr

Their campaign slogan is “Vote for Change.” But in terms of foreign policy, if David Cameron’s Conservative Party maintain their opinion poll lead over Labour and go on to take office after the British general election on 6 May, change is likely to be conspicuous mostly by its absence. As The Economist pointed out last week, with the notable exception of Britain’s relations with the EU, “foreign policy is distinguished by the broad agreement it commands in Westminster […]. For the time being, politics, to a degree that some find heartening and others worryingly complacent, still stops at the water’s edge.”

Take Afghanistan, a war that bleeds popular support with every British fatality (281 now since 2001) but one that neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats – the UK’s third largest party (and possible kingmakers if voting ends in a stalemated ‘hung’ parliament)  – offer to end Britain’s military involvement with any time soon. Indeed, and quite apart from any security fallout, a hasty withdrawal would deal a serious blow to the UK’s longstanding ‘special relationship’ with the US, which the Conservatives are (uncontroversially) committed to upholding.