Consumers International response to 2009 USTR 301 Report
Consumers International's inaugural IP Watch List, released this week, revealed that there are a number of less developed countries providing an example for the rest of the world of how to balance copyright owners' interests with consumers' access to knowledge. But judging from the latest United States' Special 301 Report, also just released, this is an insight that US policy makers still lack.
According to this year's 301 Report, amongst the countries that have most flagrantly failed to protect and enforce US intellectual property rights are the "usual suspects" of India, Indonesia and Thailand, as well as new entrants such as - believe it or not - Canada. But in fact, rather than failing to respect the interests of rights holders, these countries have simply made their own judgments about how to reconcile those interests with the needs of consumers.
To take Canada as an example (a country not featured in this year's CI Watch List, but which will be in 2010), the US 301 Report criticises the country for failing to accede to and implement the WIPO Internet Treaties - which most legal experts agree Canada has no enforceable obligation to do, and which it has every reason to avoid given how widely criticised those treaties have been for introducing inflexible and over-broad protection for "Digital Rights Management" technology.
Canada was also criticised for failing to enact border measures that would allow suspected counterfeit products to be seized without court order. This is exactly the kind of provision that last year placed many consumers at risk of illness or death, when Dutch customs authorities seized a legitimate shipment of generic medicines en route to developing country markets.
The Obama administration needs to bring change to the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), by ensuring that future editions of its 301 Report present a more even-handed assessment of the state of global IP protection and enforcement.
The USTR must recognise that intellectual property owners and their highly-paid lobbyists are not the only stakeholders in the global intellectual property system; so too are consumers, whose legitimate interests in access to knowledge, including the availability of adequate copyright flexibilities and the maintenance of a vibrant public domain, must also be taken into account if the 301 Report is to hold any credibility.
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