Wednesday, February 28, 2007

EU nations scolded by IIPA

I wrote this article for today's EDRI-gram:

The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), a lobby group representing the American publishing, software, recording and movie industries, has been busy. On 12 February IIPA published its recommendations to the US Trade Representative's 2007 review of global copyright laws. This "Special 301" procedure can lead to significant trade sanctions against countries that are judged to be uncooperative in the US drive for ever stronger intellectual property rights. It has been used over the last two decades to bully developing nations into signing quite inappropriate IP agreements such as the World Trade Organisation's TRIPS and "TRIPS plus" Free Trade Agreements with the US.

IIPA identifies a long list of nations that it considers to be placing social goals such as fighting major crime, improving education and protecting privacy above the profits of its members. As Michael Geist points out, they include 23 of the world's 30 most populous nations. Embarrassingly, while the list includes many leading economies such as Canada and Japan, it leaves out EU nations including the UK, France and Germany.

To their credit, ten EU nations are included in IIPA's hit list, which makes some extraordinary demands. Greece is told that immigrant street vendors involved in copyright infringement should be deported and that tax authorities should audit software licences for all firms. Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania are scolded for concentrating police, prosecutor and judicial attention on their societies' most pressing problems rather than on cases of copyright infringement, while Latvia is warned that it must fully staff its new IPR enforcement police division. Lithuania and Poland are also instructed to increase Customs operations against the import of infringing goods. Italy, Greece, Poland and Sweden are criticised forprivacy laws that prevent disclosing the identity of their customers to right holders based upon an Internet Protocol address. Sweden is admonished for "society's high acceptance of filesharing" and its "notoriety as a piracy safe haven" - and yet right holders are "deeply concerned" about discussion of a compulsory licence to provide artists with compensation for filesharing. Poland's universities and lecturers are instructed to "cultivate a climate of respect for copyright" amongst their students, and Hungary told to "closely monitor" its high-speed academic network for copyright infringement. Spain's prosecutors, judges and law students apparently need some re-education in the value of intellectual property rights, while the Spanish government is ordered to reverse the "stunning" decision of the General Public Prosecutor that his staff have more pressing concerns than the criminal prosecution of peer-to-peer downloaders.

One of IIPA's most consistent complaints is about the protection given by European countries to anti-copying Digital Rights Management technology. IIPA wrongly claims that the World Intellectual Property Organisation's Internet treaties require countries to implement US-style rigid protection of DRM . They criticise countries including Italy, Romania, Sweden and Poland for implementing the EU Copyright Directive in a way that gives their citizens some flexibility over breaking these locks when copyright law allows. Canada, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland and South Korea are also criticised for their DRM laws.

It is not surprising that US companies lobby to change global laws that would increase their profits. On past performance, the US government is likely to take careful note of their recommendations. But European nations should robustly defend their right to shape copyright policy to meet the needs of their own citizens, and not just those of large copyright holders.

IIPA - Recommendations on 60 countries to USTR in the 2007 Special 301 review on copyright piracy and market access problems (12.02.2007)

Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite, "Information Feudalism" -New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2002.

Michael Geist - "In Good Company'" (14.02.2007)

Ian Brown - "The evolution of anti-circumvention law" - International Review of Law, Computers and Technology 20(3), 239-260.

Urs Gasser and Silke Ernst, "Best Practice Guide: Implementing the EU Copyright Directive in the Digital Age" (12.2006)

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