IP Diplomat Sob Story: It's Hard To Push The US Agenda When The World Listens To Reason

from the oh,-the-truth-is-a-nasty-thing dept

We’ve talked in the past about the US State Department’s horrific IP Attache program. These are US government “diplomats” whose sole job is to go around the world spreading copyright and patent maximalist propaganda based on the interests of a few large US companies. There’s been an effort underway to expand this group — and, in fact, one of the many clauses hidden in SOPA was a plan to do so, massively. After SOPA failed, Lamar Smith actually tried to pass a bill that focused just on expanding the IP Attache group, but thanks to a quick outcry, that seemed to get shelved too.

Nearly four years ago, we wrote about the IP Attaches getting together to whine about all of those darn “anti-IP activists” making their lives difficult — and apparently they’re still at it. The US Chamber of Commerce — a giant lobbying group who was one of the major backers of SOPA — apparently hosted the IP Attache annual gathering recently, allowing for more rants about people making their lives difficult by actually telling people that maybe, just maybe, expanding copyright and patent law isn’t such a good thing. And, can we just note how odd it is that no one thinks there’s any conflict of interest at all in a lobbying group hosting an event for these US government employees?

The main target of derision among IP Attaches? NGOs, or non-governmental organizations — who are normally focused on pesky things like the well-being of the public. But, according to the IP Attaches, these darn NGOs and their do-gooding is getting in the way of them getting to spread their Hollywood and US Chamber of Commerce-backed maximalist propaganda:

Karin Ferriter, the IP attache to the World Trade Organization, had particularly sharp words for non-governmental organisations operating in Geneva, where she said there a “number of people working to undermine IP.”

Such opponents are “heavily populated” in Geneva but not typically found in the capitals, she said. She referred to a recent trip she had to Cameroon, where, she said, government officials were “true believers” and want better quality products through IP rights.

“People in Geneva are misinformed by the NGO community to devalue IP,” Ferriter said. And the job of the IP attaches is to remind them of the importance of IP and a strong IP system.

“Unfortunately,” she said, NGOs “are working just as much as possible to weaken the IP system.” There is a disconnect, Ferriter said, “but that’s where we come in, to help them see the value of it.”

Others noted similar issues, even calling such NGOs “the wrong people” spreading “the wrong message.”

Todd Reves, the IP attache to the UN in Geneva, particularly the World Intellectual Property Organization, concurred with Ferriter. He said in Geneva, it is often a case of “the wrong people talking to the right people.” Some diplomats there are not IP experts, and some are given more flexibility to act on their government’s behalf, so they are “more susceptible” to the messages of the NGOs. “They may be hearing the wrong message,” he said.

Notice the tricky use of words here: anyone who looks at the mountains of evidence that show stricter IP laws can have serious limiting impacts on innovation and economic growth isn’t just “wrong” but they’re “not IP experts.” We see this all the time in the comments here. In the maximalist world, your opinion doesn’t matter if you don’t have a history of profiting off of the IP system. That makes you an expert. Those who actually understand, say, the economic, cultural or health impacts of expanded IP programs… they’re just not experts.

Some of the specifics they talked about show how these folks are all about massively increasing patents and copyrights around the globe, no matter what the consequences. One attache complains about how Brazil has all sorts of well educated people, but they’re just not getting enough patents. As if more patents is the end goal. Similarly, another person complains that experts in Southeast Asia have accurately pointed out that patent and copyrights “are equated with products being more expensive.” He seems horrified by this bit of factual information getting out into the world, and suggests that IP Attaches in the area need to focus more on “the positive benefits of IP” and push that. The idea that the people he denigrates are actually right, and perhaps the people in those countries are better served with more affordable products, does not seem to occur to him. That’s not his job, of course. He’s not there to make things better in the world. He’s there to make things more expensive, so big US companies can profit — and he’s getting paid with American taxpayer money to do so.

Not surprisingly, the same guy is really excited about the “ripple effects” the TPP and its ridiculous language on copyrights and patents will have on the region — hopefully forcing many countries to sign onto legislation favored by US corporate interests.

Then there’s this:

Reves summed up: “We’re trying to change the view that IP is bad to IP is good.” He mentioned an enterprise forum that is in the works for the 2013 WIPO General Assembly next October, at which companies will highlight the advantages of IP rights. He said that while “the jury is still out,” he is optimistic that five years from now the debate in Geneva will turn more pro-IP.

The idea that WIPO has not been pro-IP enough is hilarious to anyone who’s actually followed WIPO over the years. The organization has always been ridiculously pro-IP. And, yes, it’s true that in the past few years, they’ve finally (grudgingly) acknowledged claims from some developing countries that expanded patent laws (mainly) have the ability to cause more harm than good, but the organization is now and has always been ridiculously “pro-IP.”

Either way, it’s really ridiculous that the US government employs these people, who so blatantly represent the interests of a very small sliver of corporate America, rather than what’s actually best for innovation, culture, health and economic growth.

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Companies: us chamber of commerce

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Comments on “IP Diplomat Sob Story: It's Hard To Push The US Agenda When The World Listens To Reason”

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iambinarymind (profile) says:

Not Torture Experts...

I’m so tired of all these NGO’s spreading the message that torture isn’t a good thing.

Not only are the NGO’s wrong, they’re not even torture experts. So how can anyone take them seriously?

Unless they have tortured countless human beings and enjoyed it, they have no right in espousing an opinion on the subject.


ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Not Torture Experts...

Not only are the NGO’s wrong, they’re not even torture experts. So how can anyone take them seriously?

Having been in the Boy Scouts, I know of at least one NGO that is quite familiar with torture. Don’t get me wrong…I enjoyed my time in Boy Scouts, but they were really good at things like Survival, Evasion, Avoidance, and Rescue (SEAR). It took me a couple hours to figure out that Snipes weren’t real, and that whole starting a fire with kerosene and gunpowder made us think that 15 minutes of rubbing two sticks together was a piece of cake (my stick wasn’t doused with kerosene.) And the advancement board was torture in and of itself.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Not Torture Experts...

Yes, but it’s strange that a hazing ritual rose up around hunting an animal that many “in the know” participants believe is not real when in fact it is real.

I wish I had known this at the time, so I could have educated them. Google/Wikipedia would have been so useful if we had it back when I was in scouting.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

He seriously said that?

?the wrong people talking to the right people.?
– Todd Reeves

That can be read one of 2 ways as far as I can see:
The non-corrupt but disgustingly cynical version – “We can’t possibly let them hear any conflicting opinions because these people are sheep and can’t be trusted to do what we believe is right if they have to make an actual decision”
Or the corrupt and almost equally cynical version – “If they hear a conflicting opinion that makes more sense than our bullshit they might not decide for us no matter how much we bri… uh… help them with fact-finding trips”

I know which my money’s on…

Anonymous Coward says:

In the Capitals

Karin Ferriter, the IP attache to the World Trade Organization, had particularly sharp words for non-governmental organisations operating in Geneva, where she said there a ?number of people working to undermine IP.?

Such opponents are ?heavily populated? in Geneva but not typically found in the capitals, she said. She referred to a recent trip she had to Cameroon, where, she said, government officials were ?true believers? and want better quality products through IP rights.

Wow… she points to Cameroon particularly, a country near the bottom of the list in terms of corruption by the sort of elite that she would meet “in the capitals”?

By chance, I have a story about Cameroon. A friend of mine is a teacher, and he takes posts in foreign countries, usually at places called “The American School of ?” or similar. He teaches computing to expats and diplomat’s kids, and usually some of the richer and better connected kids in the country. For a few years he took a posting to Cameroon, and while he was there, he worked very hard to improve the computing facilities in the place.

They had very little money, and they were up for license renewal and hardware upgrade in their all Windows computer lab. So, he worked out a plan to put in place an all GNU/Linux computer lab, with Linux servers, and a Linux workstation for each student. They could keep all their old equipment, since Linux is more efficient in general, and would be able to skip out on the costs of the Windows licenses. The students could learn how to maintain their own lab, office solutions are office solutions anywhere with fully transferable skills, and Linux would provide a better learning environment for students who wanted to push the limits of their understanding and take a look under the hood.

He took this plan to the committee which oversaw the computing facilities, and while they were skeptical at first, he won most of them over. But they insisted that he sell the parents on the plan before it could go forward. So he put together a presentation for parents, and successfully explained to them that this was a better way forward. So, he had everyone on board. Except the school principal. The principal objected.

Now, technically, this wasn’t directly the principal’s decision. The principal helped decide who was on the committee, and then that committee was supposed to decide — and it had decided in favor of the plan. But the principal was just sure that somehow, using Linux was Communism, and was prepared to pull rank and block the change. So my friend worked painstakingly to convince this person that the plan was simply sensible budgeting combined with no loss of, rather enhancement of, learning opportunities.

This whole process of approval for the plan was taking considerable time, and involved meeting with enough people that knowledge of the plan was now widespread “in the capital”. In particular, it reached the officials at the U.S. embassy. You’d think that the U.S. state department would have better things to do with its time than fiddle with the details of computer plumbing in rinky-dink African countries, but it became clear that pressure was being exerted on the principal straight from the U.S. ambassadorial staff. My friend and his colleagues started to receive evidence that there was a coordinated effort on the part of the embassy to influence the decision — some of it very direct.

After weeks of meetings and explanations, my friend actually convinced the school principal that his plan was the correct path. The principal convened the committee, and the relevant school staff, and asked that preparations begin for the new lab. However, by this time it was the end of the school year, so the work was scheduled for the time before the start of the next school year.

In the intervening time, the principal was replaced. It’s not entirely clear why the old principal left, and what process occurred, but a new principal was found and arrived in-country to take over the school. In his very first meeting with this new principal, set up in order to coordinate the start of setting up the new lab, my friend was informed that the plan for the new lab would not be taking place. Miraculously, the new principal had arrived with reduced-cost licenses for Microsoft Windows, and insisted that the hardware obviously all needed an upgrade regardless and that there was (suddenly) budget for it, and that there was no longer any need to build a GNU/Linux lab. So, it just wasn’t going to happen. My friend asked that the technical committee be tasked with making the decision, but the new principal was firm that there was no need, that this was obviously the way that an American school would proceed, and anyway, that discussions with the embassy staff had provided sure information that Linux was Communism.

My friend taught in the school for the season, but there were other predictable problems with a principal like this (who believed obsessively in NCLB-style test training, for example). At the end of the season, along with many other teachers, my friend left to find work elsewhere. He’s teaching in east asia now. They love him there.

The point of this story is not just to rankle at the sheer oppressiveness of this one instance, but to understand that this happens everywhere, consistently, uniformly. These “IP Attaches” are running the world right now. And they are very good friends with the people generally “found in the capitals”.

Ben says:


I am no fan of the US Patent and Copyright system, and do not think authors and musicians, for example, should be able to keep complete ownership of their work for over half a century and even after death passing to their children. That’s just wrong.

But equally wrong is the idea that just because a group is an NGO that they are good and doing it for the people. In many cases the people they are doing it for are themselves or some autocrat somewhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, if they were really paying atention to the progress of Intelectual Property in Brazil, they would learn that we actually would rather wait 8 years to issue a IPHONE patent to a company that requested it in 2002 (the G Gradiente IPHONE – who comes with Android Gingerbread), and give mandatory job stability to the employees of our IP office, than follow the american model. Meanwhile, Apple will keep selling its product, under heavy importation taxes anyway, but our courts will allow it to keep competing in the market – or the unformal market will.

And, yes, we are geting more patents, but by following Paul Germeraad, and studying the good patents registered in other countries to find insights to perfect the process of development of our products – like Japan, China and a lot of other countries did. Including the USA, when started this concept of intelectual property and author’s intelectual rights – editing in the 18th century books from England, and putting them on the public domain.

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