Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bordering on Fiction

It’s interesting that the new U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, believes that terrorists have routinely entered the United Sates through Canada — including the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. If such ill-informed, clearly harmful and inaccurate myths are really believed by high American officials, the resulting US Government demands could seriously impair ease of travel and increase shipping costs and inconvenience for Canadian businesses. Such measures could render cross border trade uncompetitive in some cases. So much for free trade. Could this all possibly be a disingenuous excuse for more protectionism? Trade lawyers would be shocked, shocked if such were the case.

Speaking of never letting a crisis (whether real or concocted) go to waste, it was apparent at last week's Fordham conference held at Cambridge, England that American USTR and Department of Commerce (USPTO) officials are similarly ill informed about piracy, counterfeiting and Canadian border and IP issues in general. This has clearly driven the USA ACTA and “Special 301" agendas.

The American officials actually do seem to believe that Canada is a major gateway for transhipping fake goods to the USA and that fake goods are actually made here in Canada in quantity. But where is the evidence for this? It seems that a key source of these allegations about Canada is that of Canadian based lobbyists for American content owner interests.

Don't be surprised if, based upon such “evidence”, Canada is promoted to the worst of the worst list on this year's “Special 301" report, expected any day now. Clearly, the Canadian lobbyists who act for their American bosses and profess to be interested in the cause of Canadian artists are getting a lot of traction. Even US Vice President Joe Biden now has Canada in his sights, along with China:
Biden blasted China, saying its intellectual property laws remain "largely ineffective" and will end up "strangling their own creative juices," and compared it to what he described as India's more effective anti-piracy regime. He singled out Canada, a close U.S. ally, as needing stronger laws; it never signed the treaty that led to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and a proposal to adopt anti-circumvention restrictions was never adopted.
I'd like to think that our Canadian government is doing its best to inform the US Government of facts, rather than passively letting special interest lobbyists feed unfettered fiction into the American policy making machine.

The fact is that Canada has long had in place very effective border enforcement mechanisms that operate under the jurisdiction of the courts, as they should. “Ex officio” measures that would empower Canadian border officials to decide matters on their own that should be left to the judicial process are not needed or even desirable in Canada. As I've pointed out before, Justice Roger Hughes, who has extraordinary experience as both a Canadian IP litigator and now as a Federal Court Judge, provided an important comment last year at Fordham that takes the wind out of the sails of those who advocate "ex officio" actions at Canadian borders:
Justice Roger Hughes of the Canadian Federal Court commented from the audience in response to Steve Metalitz’s suggestion that Canada lacks adequate and effective border measures and should provide “ex officio” seizures (i.e. seizures that bypass the Courts and let customs officials seize allegedly pirated or counterfeit goods). According to Mr. Metalitz, the current system doesn’t work. Justice Hughes pointed out that this was simply wrong and that judicial orders for seizures were readily available when appropriate – and that those seeking such a change should “stop whining” and just “roll up their sleeves” in order to use the current system. He indicated that he had signed three such orders at the request of Microsoft just in the last week.
The fact is that counterfeit and pirated products are not freely and openly available on the main streets of major Canadian cities, as they are in New York City, for example. Why blame Canada for a problem that the USA cannot or will not address even in mid-town Manhattan?

As to piracy and counterfeiting in general, the late Sir Hugh Laddie told The Times in a story on June 3, 2008 a few months before his death last year:
"Of course there is counterfeiting in China, but the same goes on in the US and Europe. Pro rata, the biggest source of pirated computer software in the world in the US.”
It’s time for facts about piracy, counterfeiting and what happens at borders. We need to move beyond lobbyists’ fabrications bordering on fiction.



BTW, if anyone wishes to pay $1,595 for a one day program (which includes lunch) to attend what promises to be an enthusiastic presentation of American government and American content owners’ points of view voiced directly and through Canadian lobbyists on some of the above topics, the Conference Board of Canada is hosting just such an event on May 29, 2009 in Toronto. Here’s the program.

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