History of Copyright, part 7: Hijacked by Pfizer

Toyota struck at the heart of the American soul in the 1970s, and all her politicians started carrying mental “The End Is Nigh” signs. The most American things of all — cars! The American Cars! — weren’t good enough for the American people. They all bought Toyota instead. This was an apocalypse-grade sign that United States was approaching its end as an industrial nation, unable to compete with Asia.

This is the final part in my series about the history of the copyright monopoly. The period of 1960 to 2010 is marked by two things: one, the record-label-driven creepage of the copyright monopoly into the noncommercial, private domain where it was always a commercial-only monopoly before (“home taping is illegal” and such nonsense) and the monopoly therefore threatening fundamental human rights, and two, the corporate political expansion of the copyright monopoly and other monopolies. The former development, where the copyright industry cried impending doom on every new technology to get more benefits for themselves is a story by itself; here, I will focus on the latter development.

When it was clear to politicians that the United States would no longer be able to maintain its economic dominance by producing anything industrially valuable or viable, many committees were formed and tasked with coming up with the answer to one crucial question: How can the US maintain its global dominance if (or when) it is not producing anything competitively valuable?

The response came from an unexpected direction: Pfizer.

The president of Pfizer, Edmund Pratt, had a furious op-ed piece in a New York Times on July 9, 1982 titled “Stealing from the Mind”. It fumed about how third world countries were stealing from them. (By this, he referred to making medicine from their own raw materials with their own factories using their own knowledge in their own time for their own people, who were frequently dying from horrible but curable third-world conditions.) Major policymakers saw a glimpse of an answer in Pfizer’s and Pratt’s thinking, and turned to Pratt’s involvement in another committee directly under the President. This committee was the magic ACTN: Advisory Committee on Trade Negotiations.

What the ACTN recommended, following Pfizer’s lead, was so daring and provocative that nobody was really sure whether to try it out: the US would try linking its trade negotiations and foreign policy. Any country who didn’t sign lopsided “free trade” deals that heavily redefined value would be branded in a myriad of bad ways, the most notable being the “Special 301 watchlist”. This list is supposed to be a list of nations not respecting copyright enough. A majority of the world’s population is on it, among them Canada.

So the solution to not producing anything of value in international trade was to redefine “producing”, “anything”, and “value” in an international political context, and to do so by bullying. It worked. The ACTN blueprints were set in motion by US Trade Representatives, using unilateral bullying to push foreign governments into enacting legislation that favored American industry interestes, bilateral “free trade” agreements that did the same, and multilateral agreements that raised the bar worldwide in protection of American interests.

In this way, the United States was able to create an exchange of values where they would rent out blueprints and get finished products from those blueprints in return. This would be considered as a fair deal under the “free trade” agreements which redefined value articifially.

The entire US monopolized industry was behind this push: the copyright industries, the patent industries, all of them. They went forum shopping and tried to go to WIPO — repeating the hijack of the record industry in 1961 — to seek legitimacy and hostship for a new trade agreement that would be marketed as “Berne Plus”.

At this point, it became politically necessary for the US to join the Berne Convention for credibility reasons, as WIPO is the overseer of Berne.

However, WIPO saw right through this scheme and more or less kicked them right out the door. WIPO was not created to give any country that kind of advantage over the rest of the world. They were outraged at the shameless attempt to hijack the copyright and patent monopolies.

So, another forum was needed. The US monopoly industry consortium approached GATT — the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade — and managed to get influence there. A major process was initiated whereby about half of the participating countries in GATT were tricked, coerced or bullied into agreeing with a new agreement under GATT, an agreement which would lock in the Berne Convention and strengthen the US industry considerably on top of that by redefining “producing”, “thing” and “value”.  This agreement was called TRIPs. Upon ratification of the TRIPs agreement, the GATT body was renamed WTO, the World Trade Organization. The 52 GATT countries choosing to stay out of the WTO would soon find themselves in an economic position where it became economically impossible to not sign the colonializing terms. Only one country out of the original 129 has not rejoined.

TRIPs has been under considerable fire for how it is constructed to enrich the rich at the expense of the poor, and when they can’t pay with money, they pay with their health and sometimes their lives. It forbids third world countries from making medicine in their own factories from their own raw materials with their own knowledge to their own people. After several near-revolts, some concessions were made in TRIPs to “allow” for this.

But perhaps the most telling story of how important the artificial monopolies are to the United States’ dominance came when Russia sought admission into the WTO (for incomprehensible reasons). To allow Russia admission, the United States demanded that the Russia-legal music shop AllofMP3 should be closed. This shop sold copies of MP3 files and was classified as a radio station in Russia, paying appropriate license fees and was fully legal.

Now, let’s go back a bit to review what was going on. This was the United States and Russia sitting at the negotiating table. Former enemies who kept each other at nuclear gunpoint 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, through sandstorm and blizzard. The United States could have demanded and gotten anything. Absolutely anything.

So what did the United States demand?

It asked for Russia to close a bloody record store.

That’s when you realize how much there is to these monopolies.

To conclude:

File sharing is not just a private matter. It’s a matter of global economic dominance, and always has been. Let’s keep sharing and move that power from the monopolists to the people. Teach everybody to share culture, and the people will win against the constrainers of liberties, just as happened at the start of this series, when people learned to read for themselves and toppled the Catholic Church.

(Lately, the copyright and patent industries have sought to repeat the TRIPs trick with ACTA, which they now call “Trips Plus”. This is not finished yet as the last word hasn’t been said.)

This concludes the history of the copyright monopoly as of 2011. Let’s make sure we can write another chapter in ten years and are freer than ever to publish, share and spread it.

Previous: The copyright monopoly gets hijacked by the record industry.

Primary source: Intellectual Feudalism – who owns the knowledge economy?, an in-depth work on the conception of the TRIPs agreement

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Falkvinge

    History of Copyright concludes in part 7 of 7: Hijacked by Pfizer http://falkvinge.net/2011/02/17/history-… #copyright #infopolicy #trips #wto

    1. Kletskous

      @Falkvinge Great Job Sir #historyofcopyright #thanks

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Falkvinge, Falkvinge, Piratpartiet Live!, stormstereo, Rickard Olsson and others. Rickard Olsson said: RT @Falkvinge: History of Copyright concludes in part 7 of 7: Hijacked by Pfizer http://is.gd/wFwF0k #copyright #infopolicy #trips #wto […]

    1. Anders S Lindbäck

      Stavfel: This is not finished yet AS the last word HASN’T been said.

      Fö så tycker jag din artikelserie om upphovsrätten förtjänar en större spridning än att bara synas på din blogg.

  3. Mats Henricson

    Thanks very much for this long and very well written expose! It has been very enlightening!

  4. Rev. Smith

    Although most is known to us who have followed you and other pirates, but by putting it in historical terms as you have done has still been very educational!

    I have always seen you as the pirate ideology’s ideologist – speaking more in theory than in practice, but with practical solutions. And now when the burden of presidentship has been lifted from your shoulders, you are better than ever! Keep up the good work! Kepp ’em ships sailing!

  5. Jack

    Dear Rick,

    Thank you for writing this excellent seven piece article.

    It is amazing how a very small number of individuals in one country can exercise power of control over large indigenous populations of their own and other countries by means of innumerable regulations and restrictions coupled with controlled media which encourages pervasive and psychologically degrading social disdain which destroys the self-confidence and self-assurance of the native population.

  6. Bo

    This should be a Youtube video with diagrams, timelines, caricatures etc 🙂

  7. Jack

    It is interesting to note that this is the very same Pfizer which illegally tested an unapproved drug called Trovan on children in Nigeria violating Nigerian Law, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Childand the International Declaration of Helsinki related to medical research.

    The Trovan trial resulted in the death of five children, many children also went on to develop arthritis.

    More info can be found here:


  8. Eric Anderson

    Remember, the US was a flat-out copyright pirate nation from 1790 to 1891. Publishers had to compete, literacy grew, and copyright law was a lot simpler. Overall, the 19th century United States was rife with copyright-related controversy and excitement, including international squabbling, celebrity grandstanding, new technology, corporate exploitation, and ferocious arguments about piracy, reprinting, and the effects of copyright law.

    See “Pimps and Ferrets”:

  9. Putte

    Excellent article. However, I am sorry to say this, but most Swedes are unaware of how horribly bad it rings for American readers to use the word f-ck. There is a very strong social stigma attached to these vulgar words and only criminals and
    people from the slum would use them in public like this.

    It sound cool for a Swede to use them, but you/we don’t understand the context in full. I have been told this by Americans living in Sweden.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      Thank you, Putte. I have softened to the more British “bloody”, which I hope will work better.

      It is true that it is a challenge to be aware of these nuances across cultural boundaries. We in the West tend to think we have the same identical culture, but when it comes down to these important details, we really don’t. Strong language in Sweden is a bit like bold text: it can and should be used to point out important or ridiculous parts, but should not be overused.


    2. thinkdisruptive

      Hey Putte:

      This stigma was true 20-30 years ago, but I can assure you it no longer holds. In some parts of the US, the southern Bible Belt in particular, it would be very offensive to some, but those people aren’t going to be reading this and agreeing with you anyway. There’s a bit of an age divide on this too. Over 60 — still very bad, under 50 — generally accepted if not overused, between 50 and 60 — it depends. Under 35, nobody cares. So, it really depends on what audience you’re trying to reach. I prefer not to use vulgarity — there are perfectly good words to express yourself without it — but on occasion, and for emphasis, it can work.

    3. kowalski

      Fuck off, Putte. You don’t have a fucking clue what the fuck you are fucking talking about, you ignorant fuck.

      You certainly fucking don’t fucking under-fucking-stand the fucking context at all… how the fuck could you, cunt!

  10. […] Part 7:  Hijacked by Pfizer […]

  11. […] Next: The copyright monopoly gets hijacked — again. […]

  12. thinkdisruptive

    A good series explaining how copyright originated in censorship, became semi-legitimized to protect the creators, and then perverted and hijacked by corporate monopolies.

    The only problem with this is that it presents as too idealist and anti-capitalism. The reason that the copyright / IP protection lobby has such sway in Washington, and therefore the rest of the world is that they’ve presented themselves as pro-capitalist, and in fact, your logic appears to reinforce their arguments.

    However, I would argue (and have done so — see: http://tiny.cc/IP_devil_in_details) that the real problem is that copyright and IP protection are inherently anti-innovation and anti-capitalist, because monopolies cause free markets (and therefore the justification for capitalism, that it’s fair and benefits everyone) to fail. Monopolies are obviously harmful to competition (by definition), but that also means they distort market pricing, prevent or slow innovation and creativity, and inhibit business formation. Monopolies are therefore anti common good.

    You hit on a very key point in one of the earlier articles about balancing of interests. A (very) limited term protection (i.e. monopoly) for creators and innovators seems reasonable to recoup costs and pay creators, but this concept of balance was stabbed in the heart 100 years ago. Since then, the common good has been increasingly squelched while IP protection is extended to ridiculous extremes for the sole purpose of protecting the rights of corporate monopolies to extract extortionate profits. (We can infer they are extortionate when you see the cost of a prescription that is patent-protected drop by 100x as soon as patents expire and competition is allowed. And, that is one of the most immoral effects of allowing it.)

    To truly paint the IP lobby as the bad guys, showing how they damage capitalism, free market competition, sustain high prices, harm artists and the public, hurt innovation and kill jobs, especially in the US, would be a far more effective battle cry. And, while it may make you appear as a crusader / Robin Hood type character, I’d shake the piracy label. It’s part of the problem

    As people, we have a natural right to innovate and to build on what has come before. Without that, theoretically all innovation would stop with whichever corporate interest holds the patent or copyright, while themselves benefiting from thousands of years of other people’s creativity and innovation. Just as Walt Disney does with his copyrighted characters based on public domain stories and film from the generation before Disney Studios started. We have a right to earn livings, to compete with each other, and let the best combination of product, service, quality and aggressive innovation win. Yet, all those rights are restrained by copyright. And, we have a right to the fruits of competition (lowest prices, best efficiency, freer access to knowledge, more equitable distribution of the benefits of innovation to everyone). These are core capitalist principles as espoused by Adam Smith, yet it is those who would protect those rights that are painted as criminals.

    In other words, I think it would be better to attack the IP lobbyists as the true pirates, sucking the lifeblood out of capitalism and sending most of the benefits of what’s left to the elites. This is the true theft, when you consider that the reason congress was given the ability to enact legislation to protect IP by the constitution was explicitly to protect the common good, not corporate monopolies. The majority of the population has been brainwashed to believe the opposite, thinking that because copyright is the law, it is therefore right and moral. And, you will always have difficulty selling the truth by claiming the pirate label.

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