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U.S. Copyright Lobby Out of Touch With the Rest of the World

Appeared on the BBC on February 20, 2007 as US Copyright Lobby Out-Of-Touch

The International Intellectual Property Alliance, an association that brings together U.S. lobby groups representing the movie, music, software, and publisher industries, last week delivered its annual submission to the U.S. government featuring its views on the inadequacy of intellectual property protection around the world.  The report frequently serves as a blueprint for the U.S. Trade Representative's Section 301 Report, a government-mandated annual report that carries the threat of trade barriers for countries that fail to meet the U.S. standard of IP protection.

The IIPA submission generated considerable media attention, with the international media focusing on state of IP protection in Russia and China, while national media in Canada, Thailand, and Taiwan broadcast dire warnings about the consequences of falling on the wrong side of U.S. lobby groups.

While the UK was spared inclusion on this year's list, what is most noteworthy about the IIPA effort is that dozens of countries – indeed most of the major global economies in the developed and developing world – are subjected to criticism.  The IIPA recommendations are designed to highlight the inadequacies of IP protection around the world, yet the lobby group ultimately shines the spotlight on how U.S. copyright policy has become out-of-touch and isolated from much of the rest of the globe.

The IIPA criticisms fall into three broad categories.  First, the lobby group is very critical of any country that does not follow the U.S. model for implementing the World Intellectual Property Organization's Internet Treaties.  Those treaties, which create legal protection for technological protection measures, have generated enormous controversy with many experts expressing concern about their impact on consumer rights, privacy, free speech, and security research.

The U.S. implementation, contained in the 1997 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, represents the world's most aggressive approach to the WIPO Internet Treaties, setting very strict limits on the circumvention of digital rights management systems and establishing a ban on devices that can be used to circumvent DRM, even if the circumvention is for lawful purposes.  

Given the U.S. experience, it is unsurprising that many countries have experimented with alternate implementations.  This experimentation invariably leads to heavy criticism from the IIPA as countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Israel, Mexico, and India are all taken to task for their implementation (or proposed implementation) of anti-circumvention legislation.  Further, countries that have not signed or ratified the WIPO Internet treaties (which still includes the majority of the world), face the wrath of the U.S. lobby group for failing to do so.

Second, in a classic case of "do what I say, not what I do", many countries are criticized for copyright laws that bear a striking similarity to U.S. law.  For example, Israel is criticized for considering a fair use provision that mirrors the U.S. approach.  The IIPA is unhappy with the attempt to follow the U.S. model, warning that the Israeli public might view it as a "free ticket to copy."  Similarly, the time shifting provisions in New Zealand's current copyright reform bill (which would permit video recording of television shows) are criticized despite the fact that U.S. law has granted even more liberal copying rights for decades.

The most disturbing illustration of this double standard is the IIPA's criticism of compulsory copyright licensing requirements.   Countries around the world, particularly those in the developing world (including Indonesia, the Philippines, Lebanon, Kuwait, Nigeria, and Vietnam) all face demands to eliminate compulsory licensing schemes in the publishing and broadcasting fields.  Moreover, the report even criticizes those countries that have merely raised the possibility of new compulsory licensing systems, such as Sweden, where politicians have mused about an Internet file sharing license.

Left unsaid by the IIPA, is the fact that the U.S. is home to numerous compulsory licenses.  These include statutory licenses for transmissions by cable systems, satellite transmissions, compulsory licenses for making and distributing phonorecords as well as the use of certain works with non-commercial broadcasting.

Third, the IIPA recommendations criticize dozens of efforts to support national education, privacy, and cultural initiatives.  For example, Canada, Brazil, and South Korea are criticized for copyright exceptions granted to students and education institutions.  Italy and Mexico are criticized for failing to establish an easy method for Internet service providers to remove allegedly infringing content (without court oversight), while Greece is viewed as being offside for protecting the privacy of ISP subscribers.  Greece is also taken to task for levying a surcharge at movie theatres that is used to support Greek films.  

Moreover, countries that have preserved their public domain by maintaining their term of copyright protection at the international treaty standard of life of the author plus an additional fifty years are criticized for not matching the U.S. extension to life plus 70 years.

There are literally hundreds of similar examples, as countries from Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America are criticized for not adopting the DMCA, not extending the term of copyright, not throwing enough people in jail, or creating too many exceptions to support education and other societal goals.  In fact, the majority of the world's population finds itself on the list, with 23 of the world's 30 most populous countries targeted for criticism (the exceptions are the UK, Germany, Ethiopia, Iran, France, Congo, and Myanmar).

Countries singled out for criticism should not be deceived into thinking that their laws are failing to meet an international standard, no matter what U.S. lobby groups say.  Rather, those countries should know that their approach – and the criticism that it inevitably brings from the U.S. – places them in very good company.

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at or online at


  1. Andrew Matangi says:

    “the time shifting provisions in New Zealand’s current copyright reform bill (which would permit video recording of television shows) are criticized despite the fact that U.S. law has granted even more liberal copying rights for decades”

    FYI, the proposed timeshifting provisions in the New Zealand copyright reform bill merely apply the existing timeshifting exception that has applied to “broadcasts” since 1995 to the new, technology-neutral “communication works”.

  2. Grounds For…
    The DCMA is a trend we see more and more, especially south of the border. In a knee-jerk reaction to lobbying and \\\”there-oughta-be-a-law\\\” public reaction to news, lawmakers create more and more laws with more stringent consequences, rather than properly enforcing the existing ones. The average member of the public tends to ignore these until it hits them. (Speeding, file sharing and anti-circumvention are a good examples) What these do is allow the full weight of the system to arbitrarily descend on those who annoy or come to the attention of the \\\”system\\\”.

    One minor offence results in an array of charges, with consequences in the dozens of years. This gives the prosecution the leverage to make a deal(\\\”surrender Dorothy, or we\\\’ll send you to prison for twice your natural life!\\\”). Tech crimes like hacking are susceptible because they\\\’re brand new and beyond the logical experience of the average public – the offence can be made to sound bad enough to merit long sentences. It may be years before everyone begins to understand and feel revulsion at the cyber equivalent of hanging for the theft of a loaf of bread.

    Define enough things as terrible crimes – tampering with your toilet tank, air conditioner, exhaust emmission controls, neighbour\\\’s wifi, or DVD encryption – make them all felonious behaviour that hits at the foundations of our society. Hate crime law even impinges on rational free speech. Once we\\\’re all \\\”terrorists\\\” then the powers that be have the leverage to deal arbitrarily with whoever annoys them. We become subjects, not citizens.

  3. The purpose of the IIPA critiques is to pressure the target countries to amend their laws so that, in turn, the IIPA can lobby Congress that it must amend US law “to conform” to the international norm. Which is a sneaky (or smart depending on your point of view) way to have Congress preempt court decisions that permit IP rights to slip thru the fortress the IIPA would build around its members IP rights.

  4. bill stenner says:

    I think that we should follow the free downloading of music without the benefit of uploading with a free downloading of media and software without the uploading benefit. Just to watch the American reaction. Why should we follow their Mickey Mouse copyright legislation that is designed by lobbyists to benefit conglomerates. Do artists really care that copyright is good after they are dead? Seriously…