Standing Up to U.S. Copyright Bullying

Once again on February 11th 2008, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) released its annual recommendations which it submits to the United States Trade Representative (USTR). The name taken by the IIPA may be misleading, as it can hardly be considered “international” in scope. The IIPA is essentially a US lobby group which aims to protect the interests of a handful of entertainment groups. Specifically IIPA represents around 1,900 U.S. companies producing and distributing materials protected by copyright laws throughout the world [1]

The purpose of the report is simply to influence another report, the “Special 301” which is released by the USTR (a branch of the US government). The Special 301 report analyzes the effectiveness of intellectual property right laws in various countries around the world. Unlike the IIPA report, the special 301 report has teeth and places the most egregious offenders on watch lists which could result in accelerated investigations and possible trade sanctions.

This year, as in previous years, IIPA claims that many countries are not doing enough to ensure US copyright laws are protected; in other words costing their industry money. And quite a bit of money indeed; according to IIPA, losses due to piracy of U.S. copyrighted materials around the world are estimated to reach $30-$35 billion annually[2]. Once again the IIPA has some harsh words for Canada stating that it had “taken no meaningful steps toward modernizing its copyright law to meet the new global minimum standards of the WIPO Internet Treaties” The report [PDF] goes on to claim that Canada alone costs the IIPA’s interests 611 million in trade losses due to piracy, and recommends placing Canada on the priority watch list. [3]

Among the recommendations is that Canada enact legislation to comply with WIPO and clarify copyright in Canada. However the report goes further to claim that Canada must fulfill its pledge by enacting laws that deal with technological protection measures (TPMs), specifically aimed at banning the circumvention of TPMs, a hotly contested issue in Canada. For IIPA banning TPM circumvention would result in a windfall.

Regardless of any truth to the recommendations, one must be mindful of the source. It must be remembered that IIPA is a US lobbyist group, supported by US business, and should have no influence on our Canadian parliament and democratic process. However, we should be cautious because the report may have this desired effect. After its release world media jumped on the recommendations claiming “Canada a top copyright violator”. These negative impressions could greatly influence proposed copyright reform. Canada must set the record straight, and we may want to take a lesson from Israel in this regard.

Israel recently replied to the IIPA report which stated that Israel’s protection of copyright was lacking and recommended they be placed on USTR’s watch list. In a response letter [PDF], Israel defended its copyright laws, which were recently amended and modernized in late 2007. Israel clearly states that protection of copyright does not have to mirror that of the US and that their legislation is adequate. The Israeli letter emits a tone of irritation and also notes the IIPA report contained “usual inaccuracies and hyperbole”. Clearly Israel is wary of the interests surrounding the IIPA. Canada has yet to respond.

At least one Canadian MP has pointed out Canada can meet its goals under WIPO without resorting to US style TPM or DRM. New Democratic Party MP Charlie Angus has written an open letter to Industry Minister Jim Prentice, arguing that Canada can ratify a key WIPO treaty without passing draconian DRM legislation. For Mr. Angus Canada has a choice whether to follow in the footsteps of our southern neighbour.

When will a private lobbyist such as the IIPA ever claim there is enough copyright protection? The interests they represent seek to profit from an ever increasing numbers of protections. There are many other sides to the copyright debate. It is clear that Canadian copyright legislation needs to be amended, but interests such as the IIPA should be taken with a dose of healthy scepticism. Whats important to remember is that Canadian copyright must be reformed for Canadians and not subject to pressures from those who have other interests in mind.

[1] IIPA homepage – http://www.iipa.com
[2] IIPA homepage http://www.iipa.com
[3]Chart on losses due to copyright piracy – http://www.iipa.com/pdf/2008SPEC301LOSSLEVEL.pdf

One Comment
  1. I’d like to pick up on the argument raised by this post which suggests that we must be mindful of source when considering reports – indeed of any nature. In the case at hand the author is suggesting that a US lobby groups report should be measured carefully as a source of influence for Canadian copyright reform. Despite Canada’s “tail on the dog” role in the US economy I couldn’t agree more. However, the issue hints at what I consider a larger problem. IP issues have become a hot button topic for the media in general and this presents serious risks with respect to public policy and legislative reform. IP is a field which requires significant in depth understanding. Many lawyers in the field have advanced degrees in their respective technological fields as well as in law. Reducing IP issues to sound bytes for the evening news and for public consumption brings these complicated topics into the living room. This isn’t to suggest that the issues shouldn’t be debated in public and by the public. What it does suggest is that public policy, at least in this instance, should be cautious of pandering to the opinions of the public. As the author suggests the media’s extraction of one line from the report could cause a tidal wave of negative public opinion related to this topic. This is hardly the way in which complicated policy disputes should be settled. That said, politics and the realities of the popular vote clearly pull in the opposite direction.

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