Felix Stalder on 10 Mar 2001 00:45:07 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> copy=right

It is often said that privacy is *the* civil rights issue of the 21st
century. I think this is wrong. More likely is that copyright/IP will
create the most contentious issues. The basic question is: To what extent
can the owner of copyrights go to enforce them and where do they clash with
other rights. Privacy is only one of these other rights. One of the
problems faced by privacy advocates has always been that erosion of privacy
is gradual and its negative effects very difficult to illustrate on a
practical day-to-day basis. Hard-core copyright protection is going to make
the loss of privacy very tangible. See the recent discussion about building
copyright protection into the hard drives of standard PCs. [1] See also
Felipe Rodriquez's excellent recent post [re: <nettime> Napster offshore?].

But privacy is only one right impacted on by the emerging copyright regime.
Fair use is another and scope of copyrights goes far beyond the realm of
informational products. The case of patents on drugs indicates the extent
to which copyright impact directly on the lives of millions of people.
Below is an excerpt from a recent Economist article on a recent court case
in South Africa where pharamceutical are challenging the government's
intention to make generic drugs for AIDS accessible. I cut out the
ideological bits and what remains is a good expose of the basic tension and
the things that are at stake.

As it is, few people condemn developing countries, such as Brazil and
India, for allowing local firms to steal the recipes for patented drugs
from Western drug firms. Because they have no research costs to recoup,
manufacturers of generic drugs can charge much lower prices. This allows
poor people access to potentially life-saving medicines, which is obviously
a good thing. But of course, if every country allowed drug piracy, no one
would be prepared to invest the necessary millions to invent new cures,
which would be a calamity.

A court case that started on March 5th in South Africa may throw some light
on this murky ethical conundrum. The following day the case was promptly
adjourned until April 18th. But when it resumes, it will attract an
enormous amount of attention because it is likely to be set a precedent
that many other third-world countries will follow.

An alliance of some 40 pharmaceutical firms is suing the South African
government over a proposed law that would reduce their patent rights. The
government's argument is that hundreds of thousands of South Africans die
every year from diseases, such as AIDS and tuberculosis, that could be
cured, prevented or alleviated with drugs. Many of these drugs are
unaffordable, because of patents, which give the inventors of a drug a
monopoly for about twenty years. Therefore, in order to save lives, the
government should sometimes be allowed to infringe these patents.

This, the government wants to do in two ways. First, it wants to allow
"parallel imports". This means that if it can find cheaper supplies of a
patented drug abroad than it can find in South Africa, it can import them
without the patent-holder's permission. This usually means importing a drug
from a country that has relatively weak patent protection and where the
patent-holder has reduced prices to compete with copycats. Second, it wants
to allow for "compulsory licensing". That is, it can license a generic
manufacturer to make it more cheaply. In other words, it can expropriate
the inventor's intellectual property. The producers of generic drugs are
already responding to this: Cipla, an Indian drug maker, said on March 8th
that it has asked the South African government for permission to supply the
country with generic copies of patented AIDS medicines.

Drug firms fear that if their products are sold at low prices in poor
countries, smugglers may buy crate-loads and ship them back to rich
countries, where they could undercut legitimate sales. This is possible,
but safeguards in rich countries are stringent. A far worse worry is the
mounting pressure in the drug companies' most important markets, notably
America, for cheaper drugs. American pharmaceutical companies have just
come through a big row about the relatively cheaper cost of drugs in
Canada. If consumers learn that pills that cost $10,000 a year in America
cost only $700 in Africa, they will demand similar discounts.

The Open PC Is Dead

Les faits sont faits.

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