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Wed, Nov. 18th, 2015, 08:53 pm

The SAGE Handbook of Intellectual Property, ed. Matthew David & Debora Halbert: The book begins with the copyright negotiations required to publish the collection, in which the largely low-restrictionist contributors struggled with the publisher’s desire to own everything. The editors give a brief history of intellectual property law, tying intellectual property to larger questions of international politics, for example the role of patent-owning cartels in spurring militarism before World War II. Another way the authors situate intellectual property is as an input into physical goods: I very much liked their framing of the point that cheap goods can be made in low-wage countries, but can only continue to command monopoly prices if they can still be made subject to intellectual property rights. This helps explain why large corporations have shifted so much towards Frozen DVDs and away from socks. These very dynamics also create incentives for “piracy,” and then demands for heightened legal protection. I also enjoyed the description of the US as “a former poacher most avidly turned gamekeeper” in its insistence that other countries adopt strong IP regimes even though, at comparable points in US economic development, we deliberately didn’t.

There are a number of chapters, mostly about copyright and secondarily about patent/related rights; very little specific to trademark. Debora Halbert’s separate chapter on globalization addresses the ways in which intellectual property is used in discourses of national competitiveness, cultural preservation, and commercial exploitation—often competing concepts that are corralled into submission with the idea of “intellectual property.” The chapter tries to make more salient the range of actors who work alongside and against nation-states to shape IP policy. Most Americans don’t agree with their government’s positions about IP in its trade negotiations, and the reasons for that deserve our attention.

Anne Barron’s chapter on copyright re-introduced me to the totalizing aspirations of the US 1995 White Paper advocating for giving copyright owners total control over the internet. I didn’t remember the White Paper’s metaphor for digital rights management—digitally “tattooing” works with rights management information, which evokes all kinds of thoughts for me now, including a reminder of the Jewish ban on tattooing. Barron, critiquing the libertarianism of standard internet freedom discourse, also warns about “openness” and Creative Commons licenses exploited by intermediaries that mean nobody makes money but Facebook and Google.

Rosemary Coombe, Sarah Ives, and Daniel Huizenga write about the risks and potential benefits of greater IP protection for geographical indications of origin. While GIs have been promoted as benefiting local, poorer groups, empirical experience suggests that more powerful groups can quickly turn GIs to the ends of reinforcing existing hierarchies, as when the management of cassis in southern France limited the number of eligible producers, prevented tenants who actually grew the grapes from benefiting from the GI, and using the GI to prevent the creation of cooperatives of smaller producers. In a story that reminded me of criticisms of US government “takings” for economic development, they told the story of Peruvian ceramics marked as “Chulucanas,” which were taken over by government regulation that promoted economies of scale and damaged the social relationships that previously sustained egalitarian communities of producers, “while driving down prices and increasing competitive relations of mistrust and alienation.” Likewise, regulations of mezcal that required it to be grown in a particular region “created purely industrial opportunities for people with no tradition of cultivation,” while many traditional mezcals failed to meet the required definition, which was based on the chemical properties of tequila; this meant that crop diversity went down. Where indigenous peoples have local political power, however, they may be able to use GIs effectively.

Natasha Whiteman’s chapter about the rhetorical construction of (un)ethical audiences in scholarship about file sharing was also interesting. I particularly liked her comparison of the problems of “the audience” over history—in the nineteenth century, for example, rowdy theatergoers caused trouble and had to be instructed by society and by the design of theaters (including lights that could be lowered) on how to behave. Even in the seventeenth century, Britain’s Restoration government feared that people who attended public sermons would rise up against the state. By the twentieth century, moral corruption and passivity—rather than activity—were what cultural critics feared; now we have a bit of both, with our slothful and thieving “pirates” of filesharing.

Glenn Bassett, Wordplay: How Words Captivate, Illuminate, Intimidate, Inform, and Imbue Us with Intelligence: I thought this book would be about linguistics-related topics, but since the thesis (one of them?) is that words make us human, it turns out to be a book about humanity. It’s a bit incoherent. There’s some interesting stuff at the beginning about words that are untranslatable to other languages, and what that says about culture, but I quickly grew to distrust the broad stereotypes in which the author spoke. Honestly, I spent some time wondering whether this was a deliberate parody of a certain style (the introduction is almost entirely in the passive voice, and not in a good way), but I don’t think so. Here are some words from his description of Arab culture/life: backward, brutal, cruel, volatile, bleakness, hostile and fragmented. And about illiteracy: “It can only be guessed how much greater authority there is in writing for those who cannot read. Hearing the word read by literate authority must be an awesome experience…. To the illiterate, writing is magical, reading is awesome, perhaps terrifying.” Yes, though ‘it can only be guessed’ what the experience of the illiterate is like—apparently no one is allowed to ask?—fortunately, he knows anyway. At some point continuing felt like cruelty, and not just to me, as when he points to a Brandweek survey of its readers, who work in advertising, to show the power of words: they picked new brand names with the greatest marketing appeal: Spykes, a malt beverage (pulled because its colors and flavors appealed to underage drinkers); Tailwind for running shoes (a Nike brand); go! for a new airline (out of business); Aloft for a new hotel (a Starwood brand); Enjuvia for a new menopause drug; and Exubera for a new insulin brand (approved by the FDA but dumped by Pfizer). Now, it’s true that almost every new product fails, but if you wanted to convince me that words are powerful … some of these ought to have been real successes. 

Peter Moskos, Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District: A sociologist got hired by the Baltimore PD as part of his research. He concluded that there was “no culture of corruption or brutality among Baltimore City patrol officers,” which makes me side-eye his account a bit. (He quotes one officer who says that his pension is worth $1-2 million, and that he’d be a fool to risk that—but people do dumber stuff all the time.) He does talk about the culture of CYA policing, staying in a car rather than walking a beat and getting to know people, as well as about superiors more concerned with arrest statistics and avoiding having an officer caught on camera doing something wrong than with preventing crime. “Arrests decrease when the hassles of arrests—lack of departmental support, citizen complaints, the burden of court, an ineffective court system—make putting away the bad guys no longer worth the trouble.”

Police like cars because they’re safer, don’t involve walking, and are shielded from the weather; supervisors like cars because they can keep track of officers more readily and can dispatch them more quickly, even though quick police response is rarely very important to solving a crime and walking a beat would be better. Residents, he reports, often conclude that all cops are either “incorrigibly corrupt or completely apathetic.” But Moskos concludes that it’s mostly the latter, along with aggressive arresters/searchers who stretch the truth in an arrest report but don’t graduate to full-scale beatings and planting evidence, yay? Police officers arrest people for trespassing, “but people want the suspect to believe that the real crime is failure to obey.” Arrest is also used to make sure people will comply with future orders and to punish bad attitudes. “Officers gain compliance from a suspect and control of a situation by implying that [the] arrest decision is based entirely on personal—even extralegal—discretion rather than some legitimate but mundane and extremely minor or technical violation of the law.” (I don’t know why Moskos contrasts those—that’s why having lots of laws it’s easy to violate enables abuse.)

Gone are the days, Moskos says, where police officers might offer suspects a hit or two in order to avoid a troublesome night in jail—perhaps, he suggests, to those suspects’ detriment. Force “no longer defines the core of policing,” and is now backup. But he doesn’t exactly connect the dots: because of the volume of policing, that can be true even while force itself remains at horrific levels.

Training too was more about surviving a dysfunctional institution than interacting well with the public; the key concern was officer safety, but no one was trained about de-escalating conflicts or dealing with troubled people who don’t respect authority. I believe that every profession occasionally hates/jokes cruelly about its clients, but it’s still pretty troubling to read a quote Moskos gets: “Junkies don’t have rights. They’re not even people. Who gives a flying fuck about a junkie!?” Moskos concludes that a focus on drug addicts hurts police—leading them to seek arrest statistics rather than other measures of success, and reinforcing their ideas that the public is the enemy. Given the car-based culture, every additional step “from stopping the car to exiting the car to questioning people on the street … is a form of escalation on the part of the police officer…. Police officers always assert their right to control public space.” There are only three possible outcomes, Moskos says, to a suspect’s interaction with the police: arrest, departure, or “deference.” In 1999, Baltimore police shot 32 people and killed five; they killed 23 people from 2004-2007. Police officers, meanwhile, were more likely to die or be injured in car crashes—police officers often refuse to wear seatbelts.

Moskos claims that police have little incentive to break the law in big ways or perjure themselves, though that’s in large part because the law is already so favorable to many tactics police use to get “consent” or to justify searches (he doesn’t exactly put it that way). Yet he also discusses common arrests for “loitering” even though the people targeted didn’t meet the legal requirements; the point isn’t to convict people, but to show them that officers must be obeyed. Shocking statistics: 45,000 residents of the Eastern District, and 20,000 arrests, most of them drug-related. 56% of black Baltimore men in their twenties are on probation, on parole, in jail, or in prison. More than 10% of men in the Eastern District are murdered before they reach 35, Moskos says, though there’s a big division between men who aren’t involved in the drug trade and those who are. Moskos blames drug criminalization for a lot of policing’s problems—along with its direct effects on minority neighborhoods, the drug war also encouraged the Supreme Court to limit suspects’ rights. When a 75% drop in world opium production (after the Taliban took over Afghanistan) didn’t change prices in the US at all, the drug war is lost; criminalization isn’t worth its costs, such as the plethora of “million-dollar blocks”—individual city blocks in which the government spends more than one million dollars per year to incarcerate individuals from that block. Along with decriminalization, Moskos is also an advocate for “policing green”—without a car, getting to know people, saving fuel (yes, that seemed a little anticlimactic, but ok).

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