Double Standard On The Special 301 Report: Industry Is Allowed Vague, Unsupported Statements; Consumer Advocates Are Not

from the funny-how-that-works dept

We’ve already pointed out the general ridiculousness associated with the USTR’s “Special 301” report, which is widely regarded as a joke. The report, which allows the administration to name which countries have been “naughty” when it comes to intellectual property enforcement, has no methodology. It has no objective measures. It has no accountability. Basically, industry groups submit their own reports on what countries are bad, and the USTR rewrites them as its own report, doing nothing to actually fact check the claims or to even quantify anything. In the past couple of years, the USTR has been more open about having consumer rights organizations — and even consumers themselves — submit their own reports, but there’s been little indication that anyone at the USTR has actually listened to any of those reports.

And, in a rather striking demonstration of how this all works, Stan McCoy, from the USTR (and apparently a top candidate to take over the Copyright Office, despite not being an expert in copyright law), presided over hearings concerning the Special 301 report recently, in which both industry groups and consumer groups appeared. Yet, as one observer noted, McCoy appeared to have a total double-standard concerning how he viewed the comments of each:

The burden of proof was very obviously on the public interest, civil society groups. Stan McCoy of the USTR, who was presiding over the hearing, joked about the two-phonebook-sized submission by the International Intellectual Property Alliance. (Lol?) Sadly, there is no independent verification of these industry reports and there were no tough questions for industry regarding their testimony. Several times, McCoy interrupted civil society groups? testimony to chide them on speaking too generally about IP policy, but refrained when industry witnesses did the same.

Testimony from groups like Global Health Organization, the Forum on Democracy and Trade, Oxfam, Public Knowledge, and others were met with aggressive push back and questioning on how criticism on the Special 301 process was at all relevant to the committee?s ability to render judgments on individual countries.

But that?s exactly the problem. The report is written so vaguely, and industry complaints taken at such face value, that specific criticism of the report is near impossible. I was surprised to learn that the report doesn?t include a list of criteria used to evaluate countries or even clear explanations on why specific countries are placed on the watch list, nor does it say which industry-submitted comments were the basis for citation.

So if you’re from industry, it’s absolutely fine to make vague, totally unsubstantiated statements — even if they’ve been widely debunked by actual experts and researchers. Yet, if you’re representing consumers, you need to have specific points to make or you get chided. And, of course, you can’t make any actual specific points because the USTR doesn’t have any specific criteria on which it bases the overall report. Brilliant.

Also, it appears that McCoy is somewhat uninformed about his own organization’s report (which he is closely connected with):

The best moment of the hearing, to me, was during Sean Flynn’s testimony on behalf of the Forum on Democracy and Trade. Flynn argued (for the second year in a row, I might add) that citing countries like Finland, France, Italy, and Japan for “unfair [pharmaceutical] reimbursement policies” was incredibly vague, hypocritical (because the US has similar reimbursement policies), and–most importantly–outside the statutory mandate of the Special 301 process. McCoy retorted that no such citation was in the 2010 report [pdf].

Flynn?s response? “It’s right here on page 14…”

And people wonder why foreign governments, and many of us who pay attention to these issues, consider the Special 301 process to make a mockery of the US government on intellectual property issues.

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Comments on “Double Standard On The Special 301 Report: Industry Is Allowed Vague, Unsupported Statements; Consumer Advocates Are Not”

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Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Wow. No court order, eh?

They must really view themselves as avenging angels on par with Elliott Ness or Dirty Harry. Just kick the door down and start hauling people away. Start swinging that axe and busting up those virtual stills. Due process is too good for (suspected) “criminals.”

And to what end? Does shutting down an “infringing” site really put more money in their pockets or the much smaller pockets of the artists they claim to represent?

Or is it just more imaginary math where every linking site taken down equals X millions of dollars? If so, the 84,000 sites taken down recently ought to have resulted in hundreds of jobs and a windfall of cash.

Oh. It didn’t?

Then I guess this is just vindictive action at the behest of their employers (yes, exactly what I said) that leaves them all with a smug sense of self-righteousness and little else. As their artists should know by now, you can’t ready feed a family on self-satisfaction. Especially second-hand self-satisfaction.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

301 Report as Evidence

I almost like the 301 Report. It is a constant reminder by our government how much they have sold out to special interests and are completely anti-american. I can only hope that other countries see it for what it is and take us much less seriously on IP issues. It shows how ignorant some in our government are, and very clearly points out who not to listen to.

As another commenter said somewhere, we need to get Greed declared a religion since so many people seem to worship it. Then congress can’t pass any more laws that cater to it.

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