Trade Agreements Still Rolling

Negotiations on both the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) continue to roll along, despite the federal government being shut down.  Too bad; our current, truly epic storm surge of political bull crap could really use a silver lining.  I’ve posted below a few more resources on these trade agreements for you that help explain just how potentially harmful they could be to everyone’s rights and livelihoods.

If you were aware of the dangers of SOPA, or feel copyright law is important to your business, you should be paying attention to these trade deals as much as any other developments in U.S. law.

TPP: Corporate Power Tool of the 1%

PublicCitizen / Eyes on Trade

Democracy Now! Video: “A Corporate Trojan Horse”: Obama Pushes Secretive TPP Trade Pact, Would Rewrite Swath of U.S. Laws

Net Neutrality and Creators

My sense is that when artists think about or discuss their economic and political interests, copyright law is often the dancing elephant in the center ring that unfortunately draws too much attention from other issues that creators should also be worried about.  One very important issue is net neutrality, which has been in the news recently.

On September 9 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit heard arguments from Verizon, which is challenging FCC rules designed to keep the internet open and neutral.  If net neutrality hasn’t been on your radar, and you don’t know anything about common carrier rules, or how they affect the internet, I would recommend you catch up by reading this article by Timothy Lee in the Washington Post (Sept. 10, 2013).  Net Neutrality is on Trial in Washington.  Here’s What You Need to Know.  (See also the other resources listed below).

Net neutrality matters to all creators, if you consider what the marketplace for artistic services might look like if Verizon, AT&T, Time-Warner, and COMCAST win their fight to lock up internet access and content.  Increased costs just for access, plus arbitrary data caps with associated high fees and penalties, will mean fewer consumers buying less content; suppression of competitors will reduce the need for providing quality service and programming; fewer buyers of creative works will mean that the big players will have increased leverage over what they pay you for your work.  And that’s just looking at a loss of net neutrality from a purely business and financial bottom-line viewpoint; from an ordinary citizen’s vantage, allowing a handful of corporations to monopolize the internet and choose what content is favored, or even available, would be an unthinkable assault on the basic rights of all Americans.

It’s worth mentioning here that the Graphic Artists Guild, as an associate member of the Copyright Alliance, is actually in league against the interests of creators.  While the Alliance regularly sends out its clowns to keep everyone’s attention focused on the copyright elephant, its lobbyists are busy at their real day jobs representing Nickles Group LLC clients COMCAST and AT&T, not to mention a slew of other corporate interests that are very unfriendly to the creative community.

Here are a number of other articles and resources for catching up on the issue of net neutrality, and what the telecoms are up to:

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Eli Clifton. The Telecom Astroturf Lobby. The American Independent. Sept. 11, 2013.


Michael J. Copps. The New Telecom Oligarchs. The Nation, April 3, 2013.


Michael Weinberg. If You Are Streaming Video, You Can’t Cap Your Rivals (Time Warner Cable Edition). PublicKnowledge.org, August 28, 2013


Timothy Karr.  Verizon’s Plan to Break the Internet.  Common Dreams, Sept. 21, 2013.


Moyers & Company.  Susan Crawford on Why U.S. Internet Access is Slow, Costly and Unfair.  Video interview, Feb. 8, 2013.

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The New and Improved IAG Blog

This site is no longer my blog for the IAG, the “Illustrators at the Guild,” my interest group for members of the NYC chapter of the Graphic Artists Guild, inc.  Unfortunately, I’ve reached the conclusion that the numerous problems within the Guild are insurmountable, and have decided that remaining as either an officer or member of the Graphic Artists Guild would not be a productive use of my time.

All my posts will be preserved for the benefit of Guild members who might still want to know some of the specifics about their organization, and exercise their rights to participate in its governance.  While I’ll still have a few things to say about the Guild, I will be speaking to the broader interests of artists, designers, and the arts community.  To any and all remaining Guild members, I hope you will pay attention to how your organization is being managed, and whether or not it is serving as an effective voice for your interests.

Sincerely,

Christopher Johnson

TPP and Telecom News

(NOTE: Originally published June 20, 2013, this post was re-edited for public display, Sept. 20, 2013.  The IAG is no longer my interest group at the NYC chapter of the Graphic Artists Guild, and I am no longer an officer, volunteer, or member of the Graphic Artists Guild.)

If you’re interested in the big picture of copyright and IP policy, and wish to know a little bit about the political sausage-grinding that will likely have an impact on the graphic arts industry, not to mention the U.S. economy and citizen’s rights, here are a few items you might want to dig into:

Why Should I Care About the TPP? (Video by PublicKnowledge.org)

There’s additional background information on Public Knowledge’s TPP page.  If you watched the video or are already aware of MPAA’s and RIAA’s support for SOPA/PIPA and now TPP, then you’re probably not very comfortable with the Graphic Artists Guild’s support for them through their front group, the Copyright Alliance.  While the Guild is very quiet about its membership in the Alliance, please note how the Guild’s logo is prominently displayed on the Copyright Alliance Members’ page.

In addition to the TPP continuing to roll along, there have been two noteworthy events in the past several days;

Michael Froman is Confirmed by Senate as the New USTR (U.S. Trade Representative)

(Huffington Post, June 20, 2013.)  Michael Froman, President Obama’s pick for USTR, will be overseeing negotiations on TPP and upcoming trade deals between the U.S. and Europe.  He was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate, with all Republican senators voting yes, and only 4 Democrats voting no.  However, the dissenters Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI) Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have some serious concerns about the current lack of transparency in trade negotiations and Froman’s lack of support for more public disclosure.

Confirmation Hearings for Thomas Wheeler, Nominee for FCC Chairman

I spent a couple hours watching C-SPAN’s coverage of the Senate confirmation hearing for nominee Thomas Wheeler on Tuesday. (C-SPAN Videos- Part IPart II)  While he appeared thoughtful and sympathetic to concerns across a wide spectrum of political viewpoints, (something all nominees have a tendency to do) I have more homework to do on him, since there will be some very large questions concerning copyright, net neutrality, corporate mergers, and god-knows what else coming before him as chair of the FCC.  His background as a lobbyist, investor, and corporate telecom executive has raised some eyebrows; see the New York Times editorial of May 08, 2013-  An Industry Man for the FCC.

Copyright Alliance News (3)

(NOTE: Originally published June 12, 2013, this post was re-edited for public display, Sept. 20, 2013.  The IAG is no longer my interest group at the NYC chapter of the Graphic Artists Guild, and I am no longer an officer, volunteer, or member of the Graphic Artists Guild.)

It’s obvious that most Guild members are far more concerned about those things that provide a direct benefit to their careers, such as creative and business skills training, than about a lot of stuff that falls under the broad heading of “advocacy.”  It’s entirely understandable; putting out better promotions brings in more work; enlarging skill sets lands better jobs; sharpening business practices really, really matters to your bottom line.  What’s happening in the Copyright law, Trade negotiation, and Tax Policy Jungles of Washington, D.C. is both extraordinarily complex and of indirect and uncertain consequence to your daily survival as a creative professional.  Who the heck can spare the time to make sense of it?  Particularly time that’s already stretched thin just trying to keep up on all the stuff having a direct impact?

Whether or not it matters all depends on what you think the Guild’s mission should be.  If you think the Guild should be your voice and advocate, dealing with what’s happening in the jungle so that you can concentrate on your daily critical tasks, then it does matter.

That brings us to current news and events involving the Copyright Alliance, an organization that the Guild supports both financially and by tacit endorsement as a member of the Alliance.   If you can find a few minutes, please read about what the lobbyists for the Copyright Alliance (a.k.a., the Nickles Group, LLC) have been up to.

AT&T’s Deregulation Campaign

As the company moves to Internet-based telephone service, it’s looking to shed regulatory obligations that benefit low-income Americans.
Leticia Miranda, June 10, 2013. The Nation Magazine.

“Since 2010, AT&T has been waging a deregulation campaign in several states across the country while aiming to move its traditional, wired telephone services to Internet Protocol (IP)-based services, which transmit voice communications digitally. With the help of corporate “bill mill” the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and support from companies like AT&T, state legislators have introduced a series of “model” bills aimed at preventing regulation of IP-based services in more than thirty states across the country, from Idaho to Georgia, Texas to New Hampshire.”

How are the regulatory changes that AT&T seeks bad for professional creators?  It takes sorting out and understanding a good-sized chunk of the economics and the history of telecommunications regulations. (Sure, like you have a whole lot of time to dedicate to that.)  Essentially what’s happening is that AT&T and the other major players in the communications game are questing for that ultimate goal in our not-quite free market system; the one really big principle that you were never taught in Economics 101, and that’s never, ever uttered by the serious people in discussions about economics: Providing the Least Amount of Goods and Services, While Charging the Most Possible.

As creators of content, our interests are served by having a broad and vibrant market in which to sell our products and services.  Unfortunately, the major telecom corporations are whittling away at regulations that preserve competition and keep costs under control, harming our base of potential clients and customers.  The terms we’ll need to agree to and the rates we’ll receive for our services are going to suffer in a market controlled by only a handful of corporations, who are working hard at maximizing their profits at the expense of service.  This is the reason SOPA was such a bad deal for creators; it would have placed legal weapons into the hands of the largest telecoms, enabling them to suppress their competition.  Reducing or eliminating net neutrality policies would likewise suppress competition, cut down on the number of our  potential clients, and raise costs for the mere transmission of content.  Dollars wasted on excessive transmission and access fees to phone and internet service are dollars not going to content creators.  Powerful telecoms using their lobbying muscle to rake in bigger profits while being allowed to provide service of lesser quality is not in our interest.

The Nation article points to one element of AT&T’s strategy, which is to shut out many consumers that are in rural or poor regions that are harder to provide service to, and are therefore less profitable.   From our standpoint, though, these are potential content consumers that are left out of the marketplace.   If you find the AT&T article too indirect and tiresome, however, or you need more background first, I highly recommend that you view the video available online of Bill Moyers’ interview of Susan Crawford, to get a clearer view of what’s going on.

Susan Crawford on Why U.S. Internet Access is Slow, Costly and Unfair.

Moyers&Company. February 8, 2013.

The lobbyists that represent the Copyright Alliance, who are supposedly looking out for the interests of “creative individuals,” are all from the Nickles Group LLC with only one small exception.  Simultaneously while representing the Alliance, the Nickles people are also representing: AT&T, COMCAST, and the MPAA, Motion Picture Association of America.  Yup, the same interests that are frequently doing bad things to the marketplace you depend upon.

In case you are not familiar with the Nickles Group, LLC, mentioned in other posts, they are a lobbying firm that Sourcewatch.org lists as a supporter of ALEC.