English: Logo of the Electronic Frontier Found...

Logo of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) returns to one of its favorite exercises in futility this week, as it attempts to fuse the body of a wide-ranging international trade agreement to the aging head of a long-invalid copyright argument.

Sadly for the unfortunately abbreviated organization, this is an argument that is far from alive. In fact, it’s dead on arrival.

In its latest clarion call to the powers-that-be, the EFF – backed by literally “over a thousand” users, no less – makes the case for “sensible copyright.” 

It’s hard to stomach such a description from an organization that would, in its own version of digital utopia, do away with almost every online protection available to creators under copyright law. When it comes packaged with that unique blend of fear and conspiracy that tech populism proponents like the EFF always advance, we move into even more unpalatable territory.

The latest tail-chasing topic?

The impact of the broad-based trade negotiations being held for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) on basic copyright fundamentals that have been widely debated for decades.

In its criticism of the current system and potential impact on the copyright term under TPP, the EFF trots out the old canard about Mickey Mouse and . Leo Lichtman wrote an excellent rebuttal to copyright extension criticism for the Copyright Alliance earlier this year, so we’ll let that piece do the heavy lifting on this criticism.

A summit with leaders of the member states of ...

A summit with leaders of the member states of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For our purposes, let’s simply look at some of the language employed in this latest plea for public outrage:

  •  “TPP Copyright Trap” – Copyright terms and extensions are a common discussion point in almost any debate over intellectual property legislation, including the recent two-year review of U.S. copyright law. To infer that the TPP is unique in this respect, particularly when U.S. lawmakers have yet to review and stamp their approval on any final text, is disingenuous. As we’ve said before, holding negotiations behind closed doors in order to arrive at a final document is the norm, unless you happen to be a paranoid tech populist (or an organization attempting to incite them).


  • “reject copyright language that doesn’t reflect the public interest” – Copyright is designed to encourage creativity by helping creators. What is more in the public interest than a vibrant creative economy, in which artists are able to express themselves without fear that their work will immediately be stolen online and they will receive no recompense for the enjoyment they bring to that same public. The EFF represents only a tiny section of the public, most notably those beholden to wider tech sector interests, so it’s claim to speak for the general population is grossly wide of the mark. If it did, the thousands it mentions in this campaign would be millions.


  • “Sensible copyright” – The EFF talks a lot about its own ideal of intellectual property paradise, but the reality of taking back copyright for everyone is simply a euphemism for wrestling any last control from creators. The organization espouses a lot of lofty ideals to get around that awkward fact, but sensible copyright in the EFF’s eyes works only to release as much intellectual property as possible online, with little or no regard for those who created it.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the kind of language leveraged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and its peers.

In fact, that’s a useful analogy, as an iceberg has a lot of dangerous weight hidden beneath that which we see on the surface. Tech populists would have us believe the TPP is the iceberg in this case. The reality is that these organizations themselves are the unseen danger, putting out a benign face to the public, based on some vague ideology of digital utopia, while beneath the surface they do the bidding of the tech sector’s biggest names.

This is very much a case of when you point at someone, there are always three fingers pointing back at you. Perhaps it’s time for the EFF – and those who sign on to its misinformed agenda – to take a look in the mirror?