a warm, inspirational evening

Last night was EFF’s 2013 Pioneer Award ceremony, attended by many of the most accomplished members of the digital rights/hacker/infoactivism communities. We honored Jamie Love, Aaron Swartz, Glenn Greenwald, and Laura Poitras, all of whom have demonstrated a deep commitment to fighting toxic corporate and state policies that strip users’ freedoms and rights over our technology.

The ceremony itself was a roller coaster of emotion and inspiring speeches. It was held at the Lodge at the Regency Center—a large, red-carpeted room with vaulted ceilings and wood-paneled walls. Being there last night, you could feel this intense warmth in the room, this mutual love between everyone there who supports and defends the values these winners exemplify through their work. It sort of felt like being part of a big massive hug.

I presented Jamie with his award, but first gave a short speech describing why it is so well-deserved. Here it is below.

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I think it’s safe to assume that most of us gathered here tonight agree that our copyright and patent laws have some… flaws. They’re creating unnecessary barriers between users and their access to culture and knowledge. The content industry, including movie studios, record labels, and publishers, have shamelessly lobbied for “IP” enforcement laws worldwide. Their influence has resulted in legal regimes that impede and even criminalize users for creating, sharing, and interacting with digital content. And that in the U.S., these laws are increasingly thwarting their supposed purpose as enshrined in our Constitution “to promote the progress of science and useful arts.”

For over two decades, Jamie has been a leader in the fight to restore sanity to our IP regimes. He has been the director of Knowledge Ecology International, previously known as the Consumer Project on Technology, for close to 25 years. He’s an adviser to a number of UN agencies, national governments, and international and regional intergovernmental organizations. In all of these roles, he’s been an uncompromising champion for the rights of users and consumers around the world. As an advocate for the access to medicines movement, he has fought pharmaceutical monopolies’ control over treatments and medical discoveries to protect and improve the lives of millions worldwide.

But of course, we’re here today to celebrate and honor Jamie for his incredible work defending your digital rights.

Jamie was a central player in blocking the passage of the broadcasting treaty at the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (or as we IP nerds call it, WIPO), back in 2007. The WIPO treaty would’ve established an additional layer of copyright-like protections on so-called “broadcasted” content, making digital copyright enforcement even more chaotic.

His blog at KEI is a valuable resource for solid policy analysis, providing clearheaded reports from meetings with various copyright industry apologists. He gives the rest of us advocates a crucial insight into the politics and (oftentimes ridiculous) rhetoric around these policies.

Jamie’s most recent significant success was the completion of the Treaty for the Visual Impaired at WIPO. This Treaty addresses the appalling fact that less than 2% of published literature is available to those with visual or reading disabilities. It obliges signatory countries to adopt permanent exceptions to their copyright law to allow people to convert works into accessible formats.

This is the FIRST treaty of its kind to establish definitive rights for users, and enshrines an essential concept into international law: that copyright designed to protect “authors, inventors, and owners,” must also respect our collective right to access knowledge and culture. Unfortunately, it faced massive opposition from legacy content industries.

Like any significant achievement, this Treaty’s success depended on a collaborative effort from dedicated advocates worldwide. Including, I am proud to say, EFF. But it’s all too likely that our hard work would not have succeeded without Jamie’s committed leadership throughout the movement. Despite seemingly insurmountable opposition from publishers, his “uncompromising” style proved more than the content industry could handle.

If it isn’t already obvious, Jamie is a bit of a hero of mine. I’m still relatively new to these battles, and I’m still wrapping my head around all the shenanigans that make up the international copyright system. But Jamie’s an expert in this mess! He knows how to make sense of the madness. He knows how to use pragmatic, public-interest driven arguments to fight the copyright maximalists, hold policymakers accountable, and protect not just your digital rights, but your human rights.

In all of these ways, Jamie is an effective and relentless digital rights advocate, committed to restore democracy in the digital world. So needless to say, I’m absolutely thrilled and honored to present him with a Pioneer Award…!