Support for copyright belies Democrat anti-corporate claims

BY GUEST OPINION | JULY 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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Democrats claim to be the party of ordinary working people (as opposed to Republicans), but it’s more accurate to say the two parties represent two partially opposed factions within the corporate ruling class. As Ralph Nader once put it, we have one corporate party with two heads.

Republicans, generally speaking, take a more in-your-face approach toward serving the immediate interests of the plutocracy and maximizing short-term profit. Democrats place greater emphasis on promoting the levels of aggregate demand and middle-class prosperity necessary for long-term economic and political stability.

The one exception is so-called “intellectual property,” where — with the exception of a few authoritarian outliers like Orrin Hatch — Democrats are far more shameless in carrying water for corporations whose business models are most reliant on patents and copyrights.

The reason for this is, in part, the prominent place in the Democratic coalition occupied by the information and culture industries — the Recording Industry Association of America, Motion Picture Association Of America, and Microsoft. Further, the Democratic coalition is made up disproportionately of green industrial sectors. This business model, whose prophet is Paul Romer, depends on patents to capitalize the new “green” or “progressive” technologies — think Warren Buffet’s wind farms — as a source of rents. Innovation and capital investment in green and high-tech industry, as they see it, are the new long-term engines of growth.

So we see Democrats who are normally regarded as among the most “progressive” in Congress — Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar, Patrick Leahy — pushing the most draconian and authoritarian forms of copyright legislation.

Klobuchar is chief sponsor of a bill that would make unauthorized streaming of proprietary content a felony. The bill provides for a five-year sentence for 10 “public performances” of copyrighted works, by electronic means, in a 180-day period. Because under existing copyright law each viewing online counts as a “performance,” posting a video on YouTube that’s watched by 10 people could put you in prison. Ditto for embedding the YouTube video on your blog.

This is not a minor issue. The “intellectual property” monopoly is the central structural support of the global corporate economy. It is as important to the corporate economy today as the tariff was to the old American industrial economy of 100 years ago. The dominant sectors in the global economy are those industries most heavily reliant on patents and copyrights: entertainment, software, pharmaceuticals, agribusiness, biotech, and electronics. Patents and trademarks are the legal mechanism behind the so-called “Nike model,” by which corporations can outsource all actual production to the Third World, yet retain control of an archipelago of job shops in China and Vietnam through “intellectual property,” finance, and marketing. A huge share of the overseas profits of American-based transnational corporations consists of royalties on copyright.

So when it comes to the one single thing global corporate power is most dependent on, Democrats are even more single-minded servants of big business than Republicans.

Don’t fool yourself about Democrats being the party of the little guy. If their policies happen to help the little guy, it’s either a means to the end of guaranteeing the profits of the big guy, or a side effect of doing so.

Kevin Carson is a mutualist anarchist and a research associate for the Center for a Stateless Society.

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