why china is right to ignore intellectual property laws

A little over a week ago, I went through one of my periodic episodes of local media exposure in the papers and on radio.

A little over a week ago, I went through one of my periodic episodes of local media exposure in the papers and on radio. I was asked to say my piece about the recent “Internet strike” by sites like Wikipedia and Reddit, who were protesting proposed US legislation intended to curb out-of-country internet activity that violated American copyright and patent laws.

It is not my attention to use this space to reiterate what I already said elsewhere. (For the record, it was that the two American bills – SOPA and PIPA – were bad and dishonest legislation, and should be of concern Canadians because our politicians are about as digitally bone-headed as theirs).

Instead, I want to address one small, personal issue, and then a larger, more world-general issue, that arose for me from debate around those two bills.

First, on the personal level, I was unsettled by being named, in both press and radio, as “Rick Steele of the Yukon Technology Innovation Centre.”

That designation caused me trouble for two reasons: First, the mention of the Technology Innovation Centre is out of date – I now work in the Technology Innovation program of the Yukon Research Centre. Second, my comments on the two pieces of legislation in question were personal utterances, not expressions of opinion on behalf of the Yukon Research Centre.

I am always careful, in this column, to avoid any confusion between my activities as a small town columnist and my activities as an employee of Yukon College. Perhaps, in the heat of the conversation I was then engaged in with the press, I did not do enough to make clear the capacity in which I was speaking. My bad.

Given the controversial title and content of this particular column, that source-alert is of more than perfunctory importance, as I now move on to the larger, more important question that came to my mind as the “Internet strike” developed and bore its fruit.

This is me talking, not the company I happen to work for.

It struck me that the whole debate about intellectual property rights and the public right to information is probably on the brink of becoming moot and irrelevant – because copyright and patent laws are becoming irrelevant to the new marketplace of ideas.

Both the Stop Offshore Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protection of Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) are lame and ill-considered attempts by the US government to alter an economic reality that is facing American industry: the rising economic powers of the world, especially China, are not going to agree to play the West’s ponderous, corrupt and empty game of intellectual property law.

They are not so much violating copyright and patent law as abolishing those things by imperial indifference.

And, whatever we might think of Chinese political and business practices, the collapse of the existing intellectual property regime may not be such a bad thing.

Nobody except the most rabid leftist libertarian is going to deny that people and organizations that come up with interesting new ideas, products, songs or stories have a right to expect some fair economic recompense for the time and imagination they invested in doing those things.

But it does not follow that the copyright and patent rules currently agreed upon (more or less) by the “developed” nations actually do anything to stimulate or reward personal or corporate inventiveness, or to provide any guarantee that innovators, artists or inventors will get a fair economic return for their time and talent.

The chief reward-recipients of the current intellectual property management system, in fact, are lawyers, big commercial and arts-media corporations, and the lobby groups representing the interests of those parties.

Most patents on file at the US or Canadian patent office, for instance, are deadwood that will never see the commercial light of day; but the patent offices and patent lawyer firms run through an obscene amount of money developing and filing them, because the filing system is so lucratively hyper-complicated and financially bloated.

Furthermore, even if a person succeeds in filing a commercially viable patent, that patent is really only as tenable as his or her financial ability to defend it in court. Nobody gets arrested by the police for patent violations; the holder of the patent has to file a civil suit an prove that the violation has in fact occurred.

Similarly, copyright laws really do very little to protect the interests of writers, artists, or musicians – unless they happen to be very famous and influential. The serious money in book publishing, music publishing or movie production goes to the big companies that handle the distribution of the product, not to the creative people who actually make the product.

The proponents of the SOPA and PIPA laws who profess to be advocating for the small shop whose clothing line or wristwatch designs are being compromised by foreign “knock-offs” are really being hypocritical and ingenuous. The real powers moving the proposed bills are the lobbies for big pharma, big media, and high tech.

Of course, the fact that our intellectual property laws are lousy, and that the current advocates for those laws are so flagrantly dishonest and self-serving, does not make piracy and knock-offs any more morally defensible.

In the age of computerized production, rapid, cheap container shipping, and digital downloads, we need to evolve new international systems to make sure artists and innovators get reasonable reward for their labours.

What those new systems of reward and punishment might look like remains to be seen, and

warrants a lot more attention than it is presently receiving; but we are not going to discover those new systems and approaches by building paper walls of legalistic self-deception between us and the new, real world.

Rick Steele is a technology junkie who lives in Whitehorse.

Just Posted

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley has announced 30 new COVID-19 cases on June 21 for a total of 100 active cases. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon experiencing community spread among unvaccinated: Hanley

Territory logs 30 new cases on June 21, for a total of 68 new cases this weekend

Lorraine Kuhn is seen with one of the many volleyball teams she coached. (Photo submitted by Sport Yukon)
The Yukon Sports Hall of Fame inducts the late Lorraine Kuhn

Lorraine Kuhn became the newest member of the Yukon Sports Hall of Fame for her work in growing volleyball amongst other sports

File Photo
A Yukon judge approved dangerous offender status for a man guilty of a string of assaults in 2020.
Yukon judge sentences dangerous offender to indefinite prison term

Herman Peter Thorn, 51, was given the sentence for 2020 assaults, history of violence

Crystal Schick/ Yukon News A former residential school in the Kaska Dena community of Lower Post will be demolished on June 21. Crystal Schick/ Yukon News
Lower Post residential school demolition postponed

On June 21, the old residential school in Lower Post will be demolished and new ground on a multi-cultural centre will be broken

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley announced 29 new COVID-19 cases on June 19 and community transmission among unvaccinated individuals. (Yukon News file)
Yukon logs record-high 29 new COVID-19 cases

F.H. Collins prom attendees and some Porter Creek Grade 9 students are instructed to self-isolate as community transmission sweeps through unvaccinated populations

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council at its June 14 meeting

Murray Arsenault sits in the drivers seat of his 1975 Bricklin SV1 in Whitehorse on June 16. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bringing the 1975 Bricklin north

Murray Arsenault remembers his dad’s Bricklin, while now driving his own

A presumptive COVID case was found at Seabridge Gold’s 3 Aces project. (file photo)
Presumptive COVID-19 case reported at mine in southeast Yukon

A rapid antigen rest found a presumptive COVID case on an incoming individual arriving at the 3Aces project

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

FORT SIMPSON—Residents of a flooded Northwest Territories village expected a helping hand… Continue reading

A woman was rescued from the Pioneer Ridge Trail in Alaska on June 16. (Photo courtesy/AllTrails)
Alaska hiker chased off trail by bears flags down help

ANCHORAGE (AP)—An Alaska hiker who reported needing help following bear encounters on… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rises in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable’ that Inuk MP felt unsafe in House of Commons, Miller says

OTTAWA—It’s a “sad reflection” on Canada that an Inuk MP feels she’s… Continue reading

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

Most Read