Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dan Glickman's Moral Panic

When I worked for the U.S. House of Representatives, one of my favorite Congressmen was Dan Glickman, of Kansas. (Another was Howard Berman). Mr. Glickman, along with 34 other Democrats, was defeated in the Republican 1994 electoral rout, and the following year he became President Clinton's Secretary of Agriculture, where he served with great distinction. In 2004, he succeeded Jack Valenti as head of the Motion Picture Association of America -- a hard act for anyone to follow. He recently announced he would retire at the end of his contract next year. Mr. Glickman has always been a sensible person, not given to extreme statements, and more interested in working through problems than in creating them. High-flying rhetoric is out of character.

For this reason, I was surprised by a story in Wired back in late November about a letter he sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on ACTA. It didn't surprise me that MPAA strongly supports ACTA, but what did surprise me was the letter's effort to create a moral panic about those who oppose ACTA. In the letter, he says :

Opponents of ACTA are either indifferent to [worldwide piracy]
or actively hostile toward efforts to improve copyright enforcement
worldwide. Many of them decried the WTO TRIPS agreement when it
came into force in the 1990's and they now insist that any effort to
build upon the TRIPS minimum standards for enforcement is
"anti-consumer" and "anti-innovation."

None of those statements are true, and there is an unfortunate, careless eliding of a number of points to misstate positions. The parts of ACTA that are controversial are not the parts that deal with customs and counterfeiting enforcement. Aside from some early wild conjectures about the scope of ACTA's customs proposals caused by the secrecy of the text, no one, as far as I know, has been critical of the very provisions that concern actual enforcement of rights against counterfeiters: MPAA is right to want to stamp out such conduct, and if improvements in global standards are required, we should improve them.There is no indifference or hostility on this issue.

The next part of the statement about opposition to TRIPS is also false. I worked on the TRIPS implementing legislation on the House. Mr. Glickman did not, presumably, he was rightly focused on the agricultural provisions. I am not aware of anyone (much less "many") who at the time decried the TRIPS provisions on enforcement. No one called them anti-consumer or anti-innovation, or was hostile or indifferent to counterfeiting.

Let's debate the merits of proposals, and skip the false rhetoric.