This afternoon, I’ll make a presentation to a group of patent lawyers in Stockholm, with the title “What does the Pirate Party want with Patents, Trademarks, and Copyright?”. Here’s a rough summary of what I’m about to tell them, including a few links that will probably get mentioned.
Patents should be abolished as soon as possible. An increasing amount of research, predominantly in the United States, shows us that the patent system as a whole has a negative effect on society. It can be positive for specific actors (mostly pharma companies and patent trolls), but for society as a whole, the patent system is damaging to innovation, to competition, and to economic growth.
When it comes to pharmaceutical patents, we agree that it’s not feasible to abolish the patent system and hope that the market makes sure enough research just happens anyway. Therefore, we’d like to replace pharmaceutical patents with the system known internationally as delinkage. It means that pharmaceutical research is financed directly from the public coffers, with research results made freely available for anyone to use in any way, spurring a free competition between manufacturers of generic (non-patent-encumbered) drugs. This system would save at least half of the taxpayers’ bill for pharmaceuticals, while at the same time channeling more money to research. As a positive side-effect, besides the savings, it would also save hundreds of thousands – or millions – of lives in the third world.
When it comes to patents in all other areas, we’re willing to listen to anybody and everybody who believes they can show that the patent system provides any kind of net positive effect to society in additional areas, but so far, nobody has been able to show such a net positive (with the exception of pharma). In every such case, the burden of proof is on those who argue for an introduction or continuation of these governmentally-sanctioned monopolies, and not on us who argue for their abolition.
Trademarks are basically good, as they primarily serve as consumer protection. If it says “Coca-Cola” on the can, I know that The Coca-Cola Company guarantees its quality. If I am dissatisfied with the product, I know where I can go to complain, but if I like it, I also know where I can go to get more. This also gives the trademark system a long-term effect of rewarding good and honest companies. While this is a positive effect, the protection of consumers is the foundation and the most important.
In some countries, like France and Italy, the trademark rights have grown to also include punishments for consumers who buy counterfeit goods (either because they want to, or because they were fooled to). This is a bad development that we’re firmly against. The legitimacy of the trademark system comes from protecting consumers. Should it be distorted into legislation that punishes consumers, like patents and copyrights do, it would lose its legitimacy.
Compared to patents and copyrights, it seems that the trademark business has kept their house cleaner against degenerate subversion, and the trademark practices haven’t fallen for the same unhealthy expansion as the patent and copyright laws have. There have been a few upsetting cases of abuse or attempted abuse, like when Louis Vuitton tried to censor a Danish artist “to protect its brand” (it’s likely they haven’t done anything more damaging to the brand in modern years), or when a guitar maker who got the phrase “Born to Rock” registered as a trademark for guitars starts suing T-shirt vendors to ban them from printing the phrase at all, despite clearly not being used as a trademark in the latter case.
This type of abuse must be fought down, primarily by the industry itself, secondarily by the courts, and tertiarily by legislators if nothing else works. But the foundation of trademark law remains sound: forcing and rewarding honesty towards consumers.
Copyright must be reformed. We’d like to keep the copyright monopoly for commercial use (but with shorter, more sensible terms of protection). The big problem is that copyright has expanded in the past 20 years, going from being something that only corporations needed to care about, into something that criminalizes the entire young generation (and more and more people who aren’t even particularly young anymore).
The Swedish Pirate Party wants to;
- Legalize file-sharing and other non-commercial sharing of culture between private individuals, both up- and downloading. As a direct consequence, search engines like The Pirate Bay will also be legal, as nobody can be charged with “aiding and abetting” an activity that is fully legal in itself (the file-sharing between private individuals).
- At most 20 years of protection from the publication of a work. Among other things, this also solves the problem with orphan works and the “black hole of the 20th century”.
- Registration after five years. Rightsholders who want to keep using their commercial monopoly after the first five years must register their works, so that commercial users who want to pay for use know where they can get a license to do so. This also solves the problem with orphan works.
- Sensible regulation for quotations, parodies, and remixes even when it comes to audio, video and more (today, you can only quote text – Ed.), and a harmonization within the EU of exceptions to copyright (“exceptions and limitations”).
- A ban on DRM (digital restriction mechanisms), or at a bare minimum, making it explicitly legal to break digital restriction mechanisms if needed for any use that is itself legal.
If we reform copyright law according to this proposal, it would solve 99% of the serious problems that today’s copyright causes, while at the same time, 99% of the business models that work today in the entertainment and cultural sectors would keep doing so if the companies would adapt ever so slightly to a new world.
It’s not just the Swedish Pirate Party that thinks copyright law should be reformed like this. Since one year back, it’s also the official position of the entire Green group in the European Parliament.
There’s more on this proposal for copyright reform in the book The Case For Copyright Reform, written by me and Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Pirate Party. The book is available for a free download as an e-book, or available at-cost as a print-on-demand book, at copyrightreform.eu.
This is a translation of an article originally in Swedish at MEP Engström’s blog.