CI submission to 2012 USTR Special 301 Review

The past twelve months have seen growing global discontent over the priority shown in US foreign policy to the interests of intellectual property holders, over broader public interests in access to knowledge, access to medicines, and communications rights.

This discontent has been fueled by the justifiable perception that the voice of ordinary consumers is often trivialised and dismissed by US policymakers.  Consumers feel that their legitimate concerns will never be given any weight against the submissions of the well-funded IP-holder lobby groups.

It is no wonder, then, that the community has ended up taking matters its own hands, through lawful protests against initiatives both domestic (SOPA, PIPA) and international (ACTA, TPPA) that are seen as failing to adequately balance intellectual property rights against other social interests.

Regrettably some, derided by industry lobbyists as  "thieves" and "pirates", have taken this slur to heart and resorted to hacktivism to oppose the draconian TRIPs-plus measures by which ordinary consumers are subjected to criminal sanctions for non-commercial acts of infringement.

What needs to be understood is that consumers who oppose tough IP laws, particularly if they are from developing and emerging economies, are not simply too lazy or too unethical to purchase IP-embedded goods through legal channels.

Rather, many such consumers are literally unable to obtain such goods legally, because US rights-holders have failed to offer such goods in foreign markets at prices that local consumers can afford, and have not provided the same legal online delivery channels that are available in the US.

The USTR should recognise this in its Special 301 Report, and not penalise countries for an inevitable, market-based response to a failure to address the needs of consumers from developing and emerging economies.  Moreover, it should not assume that the US model of IP protection and enforcment is always the best model for all.

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