Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Protection of Intellectual Property Rights: Statements


1:00 pm

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)

I welcome the Minister of State. I was briefed yesterday by people from the industry ahead of this debate and I found much merit in what they had to say and have sympathy for them and the situation in which they find themselves. When preparing my contribution I thought I might reflect their position, but having listened to what has been said by previous contributors, it seems that argument has been well made. I propose to read into the record an e-mail I received from a young constituent. I would like to ensure that view is on the record for the purpose of this debate. The industry may not thank me for this, but I read it so as to contribute an alternative view:

Dear Senator Ryan,

I am writing to you about tomorrow's debate on the protection of intellectual property.

It is my experience that debate about the development of intellectual property protections is dominated by a particular way of framing the issue, which is encouraged by powerful lobby groups in the intellectual property industries.

For instance, the statements by Minister Ryan following the recent EMIv.UPC High Court case do not suggest to me that Minister Ryan has available to him anything but industry PR and lobbyists to inform his approach to the phenomenon of online copyright infringement.

The arguments that such groups have are by no means meritless, but as a young, informed, regular user of the internet, I am struck by the disparity between the consensus among my representatives in the Oireachtas and the industrial sector, and the consensus among my online peers.

Charleton J's ruling on the UPC case indicates unswerving moral support for EMI, and merely fails to find adequate precedent to rule in EMI's favour.

But there is a growing, but politically underrepresented movement which has quite a different take on the development of intellectual property protections.

This movement overwhelmingly falls within the 18-30 bracket, but also includes internationally renowned academics like legal professor Lawrence Lessig, so it is not without legitimate and respectable representation.

There are substantial worries that increasingly more stringent protection measures for intellectual property, in national legislation, court decisions, and in international trade agreements that are binding on Ireland, will infringe other important rights that citizens ought to have, such as the right to privacy in communication and the right to fair use in free speech.

There are also worries based on sound evidence that intellectual property protectionism is actually harming the creative efforts of a younger generation of artists and musicians.

Meanwhile, Justice Charleton appears convinced that online copyright infringement "not only undermines [UPC's] business but ruins the ability of a generation of creative people in Ireland, and elsewhere, to establish a viable living. It is destructive of an important native industry."

There is a wealth of data, for those who care to look, which roundly disproves this common falsehood.

I maintain that the prevalence of this falsehood is testament to the success of industry lobbying.

The debate in traditional media on these issues is all too often conservative to the point of ignoring the problem entirely.

Newspapers and officials too often continue to allow the debate to be framed by interested parties in words like "piracy" and "theft."

These words are not legally correct characterizations of, for instance, copyright infringement, but they carry undue moral force, which then seems to recommend closing the debate.

The term 'intellectual property' is misleading in itself, since it encompasses three diverse and dissimilar bodies of law, which are justified differently and which function differently.

Meanwhile a sophisticated and far more advanced approach to the issue has developed online, which is largely opaque to those whose source of information remains the established and local media.

I contend that the legal orthodoxy on the matter, especially under consideration of the history and justification for intellectual property law, will commend a more open approach, a more critical and inquisitive approach, to the debate - one which will cut through the demonstrably false and mendacious claims of, for instance, the copyright industry, about its alleged losses to online copyright infringement.

It is imperative that people such as yourself and your colleagues in the Seanad and in Dáil Éireann do not blindly trust the received opinion on online copyright infringement.

The topic is far too sophisticated for me to represent it to you here in full.

I am also unsure the extent to which the debate in the Senate will touch on these issues, or give them a fair hearing.

I am writing to you so as to ensure that you are aware of a substantial but unheard constituency of dissent for the received opinion that more stringent protectionism here is a "good thing."

I would ask that, under this advisement, you would suggest during the debate that this is an issue with a great deal more sides to it than are presented to the common public, and on which the Oireachtas ought not to make decisions without canvassing the full informed spectrum of opinion on it.

It does so, I claim, at the risk of adding to a set of unjust laws which will only have to be dismantled by future generations, when the material and cultural cost of them becomes clear.

The reason I read this e-mail into the record is that it is an alternative view which should be heard, taken account of and appraised as to its merits.


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