Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Boyle: A Czar for the Digital Peasants

James Boyle is in cracking form in the FT again.

"One sure sign of a lack of political vision is a rise in the number of pieces of acronymic legislation. After September 11, the US Congress passed the euphoniously named “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act” the initials of which spell out “USA – Patriot.” The Patriot Act is a pretty bad piece of legislation, but at least its drafters worked hard on the acronyms so that opponents could be labelled “anti-patriot” – a perfect level of analysis for Fox News. Admittedly, in this administration, having public officials torturing acronyms rather than detainees might be counted as a plus, but I still find the whole practice distasteful. I'd suggest that politicians vow to vote against any piece of legislation with its own normatively loaded acronym, no matter how otherwise appealing. It might make them focus a little more on the content.

In any event, Congress has been at it again. The House just passed, and the Senate is considering, the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008 – or “Pro-IP” Act. (If it passes, a version is sure to be urged on Europe as a matter of “harmonisation.”) Are you pro-intellectual property? Then surely you must be for this piece of legislation! The name says it all.

Actually, there is more than a linguistic reason to dislike this nasty little industry wish-list. Bill Patry, a senior lawyer at Google and a respected copyright scholar said it may be the "most outrageously gluttonous IP bill ever introduced in the US"...

...the central feature remains – the creation of a White House level “intellectual property czar”... The czars were good at a lot of things, including autocracy, the toleration of pogroms and a fondness for having their cossacks sabre the peasants. None of these springs to mind as the ideal quality for a contemporary leader...

The point of having a czar, particularly a White House level czar, is to...“codify.. political interference in the independent exercise of .. prosecutorial judgment”... This Act would make political interference with prosecutorial judgment something that is not aberrant, it is ubiquitous and legally required. We could call it the “Politicize Responsibilities Of Independent Prosecutors” Act, I suppose. That at least would be truth in labelling. Whatever acronym we put on the title page it isn’t “Pro-IP,” merely “anti-balance.” This is one czar the digital peasantry should reject. "

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