26 jul. 2014

China is not that far anymore

Perhaps you didn't notice it, but Spain is becoming the Western version of China. No, it is not becoming an struggling economic power, it is being seized digitally with a act that limit or even prevent the access to information though the Internet. 

The two most voted parties in Spain (left-wing PSOE and right-wing PP) that turn in power since 40 years ago have been delivering cut-offs on information sharing specially over the Internet. The roots of this process can be found back in 2003 when the right-wing government of José María Aznar approved a fee that anyone should pay when buying any device capable of store or copy information. The justification for this was to compensate the existing private copy right, but despite charging the buyer of the content they decided to charge the buyer of the potential copied device. No matter if you buyed those writable DVDs to burn your holiday pics or to distribute the music of your own rock band. And they walked far beyond the DVDs. The memory card of your camera, phone, MP3 player, the hard drive of your computer or even the DVD writer were charged. This fee was collected not by the government but by a private organization (SGAE) not controlled by the Parliament. Beside this organization was investigated an detected a massive fraud and the president found to have missapropriated about 13 million euros, in 2014 the European Union found this fee totally illegal and ordered the Spanish government to reimburse the payers of that fee. Let's search the ticket of that DVD spindle you bought 11 years ago.

In late 2008 the left-wing government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero created the hard-line Sinde Act (named after the Minister of Culture Ángeles González-Sinde) on authoring rights protection and a non-governmental board (Sinde Committee), to combat the sharing of contents protected by copyright. That board was intended to terminate that private-copy right the Spaniards were already buying (yes, bought rights) by the fee payed on every copy or store capable device, do you remember? Even more, the board tried to shut off every website or software oriented to share copyrighted contents, even not being a crime in Spain, since it is only punished the sell of copied content, not the personal use. But without changing this legal framework first, the board issued tens of trials and lost all of them since judges understood that sharing content is not illegal for personal use and having a website that does not host the content but only the links isn't illegal either. As in a relay race, when right-wing government of Mariano Rajoy took over in 2011, they decided to harden the act (renaming it after the new Minister of Culture, Juan Ignacio Wert, as Sinde-Wert Act) and empowered even more the mentioned Sinde Committee. 

To finish this Orwellian thought control delirium, since as I said before the judges applying the current act have sentenced against the interests of that industry, in 2010 the judges action was by-passed. So the above mentioned Sinde Committee, whose members are not be publicly known and are personally nominated by those two parties alternating in power suspiciously under influence of strong industry interests, is the organ deciding what is right and what is wrong without a trial with warranties.

The last movement of this chess match has been the new copyright act (Reforma de la Ley de Propiedad Intelectual, Reformation on Intellectual Property Act) issued by the government last week (July 2014) which intends to fix the past errors. This new act imposes a so called "Google fee" to charge the pages that link to other's content. Remember "the networks are ours"? This name of Google fee is specially hilarious when you remember that Spain awarded Google in 2006 with the highest decoration, Príncipe de Asturias award "for easing the general access to knowledge".  This fee is by itself quite unfair, since the networks providers are charging their current clients (me, you, anyone who has an Internet connection). But it's even more scary the way this act will be applied. First of all this act intends to protect the author's right charging those linking that author's content and giving that money to a third-non-governmental copyright collecting societies to manage it and share it between its member, but… even if I'm not a member of any of those societies linking to my content will be charged and collected by them. Even more, the copy-right is, by this act an inalienable right. This is, I, as the author cannot give away my own rights over my own production to free it on the common domain. (Hey, did you hear about copyleft?) So even if I want my content to be freely linked and distributed, my fans will be charged and that money obtained through my content will be shared between members of those collecting societies, among whom I am not.

Further than that, websites like Menéame (the Spanish version of Reddit) will be absolutely unfeasible under this new legal framework. Linking to third party contents, even those in public domain will require to pay that Google fee or assume the risk to be prosecuted with fines from 30,000 to 300,000 euros. As you can easily understand that initiatives like Wikipedia will be absolutely banned from Spain. Of course, after being  fined and maybe your website/business is bankrupted, you can, of course, claim on the specially slow Spanish judicial system. Oh wait, now you have to pay an extra fee to initiate the legal procedure so if you're bankrupted, you're screwed.

Anyone could ask themselves how a government of a European country in the Century 21st can create such act against all common sense and logic. Well it can be explained by two strongly interconnected facts.

The level of understanding and knowledge of the Spanish business (and of course political, since they all come in the same box) establishment on technology and Internet matters can be summarized with the words of César Alierta, CEO of Spain's major telecom operator (Telefónica) back in 2010, when he said textually "Internet search engines use our networks without paying us a cent [...] and the networks are ours". He prompted that search engines (read Google) should pay Telefónica for the traffic originated. He probably forgot that his company is indeed billing Spaniards for that concept already. This is the level of those who are in power. If you can understand Spanish you'll love watching this video.

The first reason, as a continuation of the previously fact is that Spanish politicians are merely bureaucrats with little or none at all knowledge about the matters they are deciding about. The USA had as Secretary Energy a Steven Chu, Nobel Prize of Physics and somebody from whom anyone could think he knows whats energy (Current Minister of Energy in Spain is B.A. on Economics and Business Administration). Well, in Spain this never happened and it will never happen. Not because there are not Spanish Nobel Price awarded scientists (which is true), but because the way a Spanish politician becomes President, Minister or even deputy is not for their merits but by contacts and string pulling. So you can find in Spain that the president of the Culture Board in Congress (that one that created the Sinde committee) who doesn't know what's an Internet link and, I don't know if due to a "1234" password, but he says he got his Facebook account hijacked so he decided to close it (you can read the full story in Spanish in this link). This situation leads to a massive nomination of assistants and advisers that, despite not being elected by the voters, are who in fact take the decisions.

The second reason why politicians in Spain can be issuing such act that aisles Spain from the Internet and digital world is corruption. Spanish politicians have outrageous connections with high corporate world and it is not uncommon that former government members do not return to their original jobs but are hired by those companies maybe in return for favors. This connections leads the government action in Spain to be sometimes oriented more to the benefit of certain business sectors or companies than to the general public. Beside collecting money for any content shared in the net, pulling down the Internet traffic in Spain will have a clear winner. Major operator Telefónica will cut their maintenance costs having almost the same clients and not reducing (please...) their bills.

Spain is heading a precipice that will summon it in a pre-digital era. Maybe intentionally or not (I don't like conspiracy theories) Spain is abandoning the road to Future's industry and anchoring to construction (which was the cause of the specially severe crisis of 2008 in Spain) and hotel and restaurants industry, discouraging any initiative of entrepreneurship in high qualification business. Meanwhile, those young Spanish promises lead the way to other countries as soon as they finish their university grades, what drives Spain to an intellectual desertification.

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