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Union Roundup – May 2003

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JUST ABOUT EVERY UNION YOU’VE EVER HEARD OF: Sometimes, everyone’s bread is buttered on the same side. That, at least, is the spin – the raison d’etre – coming out of the official pronouncements heralding the recent arrival of the Entertainment Industry Coalition (EIC) for Free Trade. Comprised of an entire bedroom of strange bedfellows – there’s WGAw and AOL Time Warner, there’s SAG and PGA, there’s Sony and IATSE (and the list goes on from here), the group seeks to squelch what it views as rampant global piracy of intellectual property, and is willing to use the Trojan Horse of “Free Trade” to obtain some leverage on current and future trade agreements – toward the recognition of U.S. copyright holders. If it all works, this will be splendid news for those who hold such copyrights (the studios/corporations, mostly) or those who get residuals (above-the-liners). But if we can return to the strange bedfellow/Trojan Horse theme: If one of the effects of globalization is to depress wages – work flows to low-wage, low-overhead markets (Canada, anyone?) – creating conditions where unions are not welcome (n.b., labor guilds) workers arguably have less discretionary income to spend on…entertainment! Indeed, some might claim that depressed-wage economies lead to conditions that spawn…piracy! (You gonna pay two bucks, or twenty, for that DVD?)
Of course, if the EIC is willing to argue for better working conditions, better salaries, etc. in those “free” trade agreements – in other words, if they’re willing to go to bat for the creation of economies where movie tickets, and cable TV subscription fees and CDs can be purchased by people who want them – and people do indeed want them – and can afford them, then maybe they’re on to something.
In a not unrelated development: After American troops successfully completed the initial phase of the Iraq invasion, and Baghdad started to flex its post-Saddam wings, a boomlet in the sales of satellite dishes was reported. Most of these cost about what an Iraqi civil servant would make in a year. Most of these, one guesses, are not hooked up to the Dish network or DirecTV. In other words, these newly-made Iraqi “world citizens” probably won’t be too anxious to have EIC come calling about pirated goods or services, anytime soon. EIC will probably have to indulge in a little realpolitik in terms of picking its enforcement battles.
— Mark London Williams

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