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Hollywood: Never Mind the Transparency, Here’s the ACTA

November 20, 2009 , , , ,

It's not a surprise that the Motion Picture Association of America is a supporter of the so-called Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a proposed international copyright and trademark agreement that the public isn't allowed to see. What is surprising is how willing the MPAA is to dismiss calls for an open and democratic process as a “distraction.”

In a letter addressed yesterday to Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the MPAA endorsed ACTA and then went on to say this:

Outcries on the lack of transparency in the ACTA negotiations are a distraction. They distract from the substance and the ambition of the ACTA

This is a pathetic excuse for logic. It borders on the Chewbacca Defense for its use of non-sequitur. The “substance and ambition” of the ACTA? And what, pray tell, is so important in the substance of ACTA that it trumps the fundamentals of open government?

Oh, wait, you can't tell me.

“Ambition”? Ambitions are the flowery platitudes you get in the statements of purpose of laws—the vague bullet points in a press release that tell you all the good intentions of a bill or a law or a treaty. Ambitions, as nice as they may be, are not laws. And intentions—even the best of them—do nothing good in themselves.

Let me see: an international agreement, which could have binding or massively influential effects on how everyone transmits culture and knowledge, deserves to be hidden from the public because…why? Because its intentions are so good that it cannot even be seen?

But maybe we can look at it another way: ACTA could be a good thing. We just need to unquestioningly trust those few who are negotiating it to make policy for the entire world. Wait, that doesn't sound much better either. After all, this is the same body that, in pressing network monitoring mandates onto colleges, claimed first that 44% of file-sharing came from college campuses, only to find their much-flogged pet study had overestimated the numbers by a factor of 3. Why shouldn't we trust such a lobby as that?

This is, frankly, embarrassing. We can (and we will) argue about the best ways to enforce copyrights, and where the best boundaries of copyright are. But this non-justification, non-excuse for hiding future laws from the public they are to govern? Inexcusable. And yet the MPAA tries to excuse it, or even brush aside the need for an excuse.

And how? By claiming that its particular business interests are so vital, so critical, that we cannot be “distracted” by considerations such as good government, international governance, or freedom of information. That sort of argument might play (or might have played) in matters of imminent national security, but in the self-interests of an industry that continues to do incredibly well, it's laughable.

And yet much of the letter takes up the lament of the state ot the movie industry, with play-to-the-crowd references about the number of jobs provided by Hollywood. There's even reference to “1 million indirect jobs” created by the movies (is that counting popcorn <a href=”farmers?).

But more importantly, the MPAA hasn't shown how its proposed solutions would improve its industry, much less create jobs and help the economy. After all, how could it, when the solutions themselves, contained within ACTA, have to remain a secret?