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On Wednesday next week, the European Parliament will be voting on three different reports concerned with future copyright policy within the common market. One of these reports, the so-called Gallo Report, is not worth the paper it is written on and should be defenestrated by MEPs truly concerned with the development of Europe as an information society.
To understand the Gallo Report and its contents, one need look no further than to France's current government. The Gallo Report, despite being non-legislative, is a direct result of France's policies and legislation pertaining to the internet, both based on inability of the country's government to comprehend today's digital society. This inability is in turn based on what Zbigniew Brzezinski precisely defined as a "special vocation, generated by a deeply felt sense of historical destiny and fortified by a unique cultural pride." (Brzezinski: 1997)
It can be reasoned the most recent antics of Nicholas Sarkozy, pitting him toe-to-toe against the European Commission, its president José Manuel Barroso and creating a huge annoyance for the heads of the EU's member states wishing to discuss important matters instead of posing as a platform for Sarkozy to look strong at home, are due to the unique non-qualities of France as a political entity.
France's overwrought cultural pride and sense of destiny has also led to singular paths in the field of technology - one need merely think of Minitel, introduced by France Telecom way back with total support of the state, which gave the terminals away for free.
Apart from trying to give France a much-needed technological push, Minitel was also France's specific answer to technology developed by scientists in the state France resents most, i.e. the USA. Anything a yank can do, we can do better, we can do anything better than you.
Minitel by design is a locked-in, walled platform, making it similar to certain modern-day walled garden atrocities. Minitel is a platform that could be controlled by the French state through France Telecom - rather in contrast to the internet.
The rise of the internet and network society has led to many a politician, lobbyist and industrialist scratch their individual noggins. As an industry, major record labels for instance have been totally unable to cope with the change of medium through which content is now distributed. Millions and millions have been spent on lobbyists sent forth to the capitals of the western world to keep citizens from sharing online - just like back in the 1980s and the rise of the cassette recorder.
In England, the Digital Economy Bill was able to pass through parliament without much to-do. In contrast, Germany has stayed resilient to the demands of an antiquated industry, whose business model is merely based on a tangible way to distribute content. German ministress of justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger made it clear a couple of months ago it was not the role of government to favour a certain method of distribution, questioning the existence of record labels.
France, however, feels its, er, unique cultural spirit is threatened by that cursed US invention, the internet. Add a president married to a recording artist, and the result is an utter catastrophe.
Sarkozy and his cronies saw it fit to introduce Hadopi, a law and an institution to regulate access to the internet and keep citizens swapping songs on the internet. Example: If Pierre gets nicked three times downloading some song by Carla Bruni, Pierre will be barred from using the internet for a period of two to 12 months. A spiffing idea for a country governed by a benevolent dictator, but not for one governed by codified law.
Shortly after the dire Hadopi affair, a bloke named Patrick Zelnik came up with the idea to tax online advertising revenue and use the money to subsidise French newspapers. After all, la grande newspapers had to be protected from Google News.
France's establishment rejoiced, whereas others shook their heads. For Monsieur Zelnik happened to be the founder of Naive, a French record label. Naive also just happens to be the home of French recording artist Carla Bruni, who is married to... Nicholas Sarkozy!
One may joke about the country's infernal affairs, but it is of importance to recognise that a European copyright policy dictated by France would be a nightmare.
The Gallo Report is, put simply, the essence of a French desire to steer European policy in direction of what it sees as a totally sensible method to protect France, and, being French, must be good for Europe as well. This isn't the case.
First off, the Gallo Report "on enforcement of intellectual property rights in the internal market" does not differentiate counterfeiting perpetrated by organised crime from petty infringements not made for a profit, i.e. some sysadmin downloading the newest episode of The IT Crowd through, say, Bittorrent.
Secondly, the repressive measures called for by the Gallo Report, are based on false figures and research which does not withstand review. A study penned by French business Tera Consultants, the so-called BASCAP/ Tera study, was utilised by France to sway sentiment in the European Parliament. According to the methodology employed in the study, "piracy" will lead to 611.000 to 1.217.000 jobs go down the drain in Europe. This is not the case.
The Social Science Research Council blasted the biased methodology of the BASCAP/ Tera study shortly after its release. According to the SSRC, which is conducting a thorough and unbiased, scientific study concerning intellectual property, "IP imports, legal sales represent an outflow of revenue from the national economy. The piracy of IP imports, in contrast, represents a welfare gain in the form of expanded access to valuable goods. In film and software, European countries are primarily IP importers."
In the case of The Netherlands, "the welfare impact of music piracy in the Netherlands [estimates] at a net positive €100 million." No jobs lost there.
Thirdly, there is no proof justifying the measures called for in the Gallo Report. There is no true finding on the impact of internet-related behaviour in terms of content.
Depending on methodology, it can be argued for either side of the medal. At the moment, the discussion is even heading in the opposite direction of what has found its way into Mrs. Gallo's report - one need merely look at the findings of a review study conducted by the US Government Accountability Office.
By placing petty behaviour of the average European on a level with that of organised, for-profit crime, a vote for the Gallo Report would open the gate for future repressive measures in terms of internet usage.
Repressive sanctions are not only limited to punishing the uploading of a music video of Carla Bruni to Youtube, or downloading a movie. Once institutionalised, they can also evolve to bar the populace from visiting certain sites - think Wikileaks. Where repression lurks, censorship is near.
MEPs would do well to vote for the S&D/ Greens alternative, instead of tickling Sarkozy's overblown ego, to the detriment of the entire union.