Thursday, February 18, 2010

Perennial IIPA Blame Canada Litany

The annual International Intellectual Property Alliance ("IIPA") litany of misleading and overwrought allegations against Canada as a "haven" for all sorts of "piracy" and other evils has just been published.

The IIPA, which has been run by a couple of very smart lawyers in Washington, describes itself as follows:

The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) is a private sector coalition, formed in 1984, of trade associations representing U.S. copyright-based industries in bilateral and multilateral efforts working to improve international protection and enforcement of copyrighted materials and open up foreign markets closed by piracy and other market access barriers.

IIPA’s seven member associations are: the Association of American Publishers (AAP), the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). IIPA’s seven member associations represent over 1,900 U.S. companies producing and distributing materials protected by copyright laws throughout the world—all types of computer software, including business applications software and entertainment software (such as videogame discs and cartridges, personal computer CD-ROMs, and multimedia products); theatrical films, television programs, DVDs and home video and digital representations of audiovisual works; music, records, CDs, and audiocassettes; and textbooks, trade books, reference and professional publications and journals (in both electronic and print media).

One of the IIPA lawyers has recently appeared with a leading Canadian entertainment industry lawyer/lobbyist to stage faux-"debates" under the aegis of the the Canada Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center no less, which should be embarrassed at having provided such a blatant lobbying podium in both Toronto and Washington. These were not debates. They were duets.

The IIPA tells us how we should run our law enforcement agencies, operate our borders (by keeping Judges out of the seizure procedure because going to court is "unduly burdensome") and generally using taxpayer resources to enforce their members' private rights.

Unfortunately, they have sympathetic listeners in Canadian law enforcement and the government itself.

But the real agenda here may well involve other issues - such as parallel imports, which are perfectly legal and - to the dismay of many content owners - very competitive and consumer friendly. For a lot of content owners, anything that can delay or hinder parallel imports or other legitimate products is good. That easy access to non-judicial "ex officio" border enforcement can be used for abusive and anti-competitive purposes has recently been illustrated in the Netherlands with respect to perfectly legal - but "generic" - AIDs medication that reportedly got seriously held up for all the wrong reasons. People may well have died.

It certainly seems incongruous to hear a major trade association in the entertainment business taking upon itself the crusade against counterfeit toothpaste, etc.

Nobody defends piracy or counterfeiting. The problem, however, is to ensure that changes in the law don't affect legitimate activity, such as parallel importation.

We have seen how the pursuit of a just, commendable and unnecessary cause (anti-terrorism) can lead to serious, unnecessary and inefficient erosion of privacy and other fundamental rights of countless innocent people. Let us hope that the overblown invocation of "piracy" and "counterfeiting" does not cause more harm than good.


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