Suicidally strong IP ?
is the outcome of yet another Pyhrric victory for the strong IP movement, which succeeded, a couple of months ago in securing prison sentences for the Swedish operators of filesharing site Pirate Bay. This galvanised about 7 per cent of Swedish voters into supporting the Pirate Party, which reflects the typical feelings of Internet users: hostile to intrusive and aggressive IP, concerned about privacy for individuals and households, in favour of transparency for corporations and governments. These feelings are, of course, diametrically opposed to those of the elite groups that have historically driven policy on these issues. In the light of this public reaction, and the absence of any corresponding electoral support for the IP lobby, governments everywhere will think twice before endorsing criminal prosecution of IP violators.
Belatedly, the IP lobby is waking up. Robert Wexler, the Co-Chair of the US Congressional Intellectual Property Promotion and Piracy Prevention Caucus has issued a call to arms. Wexler makes the statement, usual in cases like this, that his lobby needs to a better job in communicating the message. But, also as usual in cases like this, the real problem is the message itself, exemplified by his reported view that ‘Government and private sector efforts to make IP theft taboo have fallen short’.
The problem here is that no one outside the IP lobby, not even those who strongly support copyright and patents, believes that these things are property that can be stolen. There is, I think, quite a bit of public sympathy for the view that the creative workers deserve a fair return for their efforts, and that social institutions should help to ensure that they receive it. There is essentially none for the inane suggestion that copying a video is similar to stealing a car.
I suspect that IP is doomed, given the steadily increasing ease of copying, the spread of free or open-source material and the reaction against the heavy-handed tactics used so far. But if the IP lobby wants to try to save something from the wreck, they would be well advised to put forward more moderate claims, supported by more credible arguments. Trying to massage the existing message won’t cut it.