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The FTAA and the RIAA

TOMORROW WE’LL BE DRIVING from Worcester to Miami to represent
Battle in this week’s actions
against the Free Trade Area of the Americas
(FTAA). Trade arrangements like NAFTA, the FTAA, and the WTO have the
long term goal of removing trade barriers like tariffs and subsidies.
That’s reasonable: tariffs and subsidies are often just a huge waste of
everybody’s money (see Bush’s
steel tariff
). Most importantly, developing countries desperately
need access to American and European agricultural markets.

The problem is that rich countries know poor countries need trade
agreements more than they do, and so they cash in. To the U.S. and
“negotiation” means ignoring poor countries’ priorities (like phasing out
American and European farm subsidies) and forcing their own priorities
(like intellectual property and government procurement) down poor
countries’ throats. This is pretty much what they did at the last WTO
ministerial in Cancun, except developing countries weren’t havin’ it. (read

The other problem is that, because nobody working on trade negotiation is
actually elected or subject to any meaningful public scrutiny, these
treaties quickly become a grab bag of assorted industry wet dreams. Like
this one:

“One option proposed for Article 4.1 of
the intellectual property rights chapter in the Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA) Treaty would mandate that countries must send
noncommercial infringers such as Peer2-Peer (P2P) file-sharers to

According to this report by IP Justice, an intellectual property watchdog group,
all signatory countries would have to make p2p filesharing a felony by
2005. And that’s not all: here’s a Top Ten of
restrictive, pro-monopoly provisions that the FTAA would force on America
and every country in the hemisphere except Cuba. “Free trade” or industry

You decide.

And to put things in perspective: while the FTAA’s IP provisions mean jail
sentences for filesharers, they could literally be death sentences for
millions of HIV positive men and women around the world. Brazil is under
lots of pressure to sign the FTAA. Brazil is also the leading
manufacturer of generic AIDS drugs. They have a strong pharmacutical
industry, and they’ve taken the reasonable position that the health of
their people is more important than staying buddies with the parmacutical lobby (must be because
they’re not getting campaign contributions). To simplify things a bit, Brazil is the reason why
many very poor countries are able to afford AIDS drugs, and if they sign
the FTAA, this will no longer be the case (lite,

). Provisions in the FTAA might even make it harder to legally
produce generic drugs after the name-brand patents expire. The income
stream from sales in America, Europe, and Japan is more than enough to
sustain R&D into new and better drugs, but the drug companies, like every
other corporation, prefers less competition and more money.

So, if millions of babies are going to be born HIV positive because we
recognize corporations’ “right” to “own” an idea regardless of
implications to the public good, you might ask what the hell we’re doing
trying to take down Ja Rule and Brittney Spears. Well read this comment
from a PhrMA (the drug industry lobby) representative quoted in the Miami
Herald article referenced above:

Basically, they [Doctors
Without Borders
, an international medical society that has won the
Nobel Peace Prize] don’t want intellectual property,” says Grayson, who
works for the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of
America. “But intellectual property, whether it’s music or drugs or
movies, recognizes the rights of the ones who created the property.”

Music, drugs, and movies.
There are those who see “intellectual property” as a conditional and
temporary monopoly intended to support the arts and create incentives for
scientists and inventors. Then there are those who see “intellectual
property” as a sacred right to control ideas and information as if it was
gold or oil, and they should be allowed to control it even if it means
millions of kids will be born with AIDS, for example. PhrMA, the MPAA,
and the RIAA know which side they’re on. Do you?

On the college action front, kids at Penn State are already raising hell
about how their college is forcing them all to pay for Napster
subscriptions. We helped them get some press for it:
check out this article in CNET.
Look for more news on this soon. If anybody wants help organizing on
their campus against out of control intellectual property laws, let us
know. Also, p2pnet is back up.

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