May 6th 2014
It’s no secret that the USTR has been pushing for copyright maximalist policies over the past few years (mostly done by a guy who recently went through the revolving door to become an MPAA lobbyist). However, one thing they keep claiming is that they’re only looking to get other countries to match existing US laws, rather than expand them. That’s clearly untrue if you look through the actual language being negotiated (only available via leaks). But, even so, it’s pretty clear that the USTR is pushing an extreme maximalist approach. Last week, it released its latest Special 301 report, in which it names which countries are “naughty” about intellectual property. “Naughty” is not defined by any objective standard. Rather, the USTR asks various industry lobbyists to tell them which countries they dislike the most, and the USTR rewrites it into the list. The Special 301 process has long been a complete joke that even many maximalists recognize as silly (we heard the former head of the US Copyright Office once mock it).
The latest version of the report is more of what we’ve come to expect in previous reports. China has been naughty. India and Spain have been called out of class for a special extra review. Blah blah blah. But, it also notes that both Italy and the Philippines were removed from the Watch List “in recognition of their intellectual property rights accomplishments.” Both countries have certainly become much more aggressive on copyrights recently — and they’ve done so by being a lot more aggressive than the US. In fact, as we’ve been reporting, Italy made a dangerous move to allow an administrative agency to issue censorship bans on websites without any judicial process. And, in fact, it’s already begun issuing questionable death sentences on sites, forcing ISPs to block access.
If this sounds like the approach originally considered in SOPA (actually, it’s going even further than that), that was then massively rejected by the public, you’d be exactly right. So you would think that the USTR would, perhaps, chastise Italy for such an abuse of intellectual property for censorship in a manner that the American public (who the USTR is supposed to represent) have rejected. But, nope. The USTR praises this very approach:
Italy is removed from the Watch List in the 2014 Special 301 Report in recognition of the Italian Communications Regulatory Authority’s (AGCOM) adoption, on December 12, 2013, of long-awaited regulations to combat copyright piracy over the Internet.
In other words, here you have the USTR basically admitting that it approves of countries moving to an approach even more extreme than SOPA. Of course, the reality here is pretty transparent. If Italy and others implement SOPA, down the road, it can be negotiated into various international agreements, so that the US will claim that it has to implement SOPA to “comply with our international obligations.” It’s been done before. That’s exactly how we got the DMCA. Congress initially rejected it, and so Bruce Lehman specifically went to WIPO to get the DMCA put into the 1996 Copyright Treaty… and, voila, two years later Congress said it had to pass the DMCA to comply with that treaty.
The USTR has long been a supporter of maximalist policies. Praising Italy for implementing an even more extreme version of SOPA just highlights how little concern the USTR has for the interests of the American public. Instead, it appears almost entirely focused on the interests of the most powerful lobbyists (who, not surprisingly, are also the USTR employees’ likely future employers).