Senator Hatch's Plan To Give Hollywood The Key Seat At The Table For All Future Trade Negotiations
from the crony-capitalism dept
We recently wrote about Senator Orrin Hatch’s plans to create a special new ambassador-level role within the USTR for someone focused solely on pushing copyright and patent maximalism around the globe. Hatch actually claimed that intellectual property issues don’t get enough attention in international trade negotiations. This is ridiculous, as IP issues have actually been getting way too much attention — so much so that the announcement of the bill came just days after a huge number of public interest groups put together a letter stating that we should take intellectual property out of international trade agreements entirely.
There was one oddity, of course: despite announcing the bill, and even having a bill number for it (S.660), Hatch did not immediately release the actual text of the bill he was proposing. That text is now out and the EFF has jumped in with a thorough analysis of why it’s a disaster. Basically, as expected, this is not about more effective or reasonable stances on intellectual property in international trade agreements. No, the bill is fairly explicit that this is solely about helping out legacy companies push through what’s in their own best interests, rather than the public’s interest (which is what the Constitution says patents and copyrights are supposed to be about).
The new Chief “Intellectual Property” Negotiator would have to be approved by the Senate Finance Committee — of which Senator Hatch himself is the Ranking Member — and would be required to “be a vigorous advocate on behalf of United States innovation and intellectual property interests.” That is to say, this representative wouldn’t be there to represent the public interest, or the average Americans who are paying his or her salary.
Worse still, this proposal comes at the precise moment that the legacy content industry’s trade agenda has shown itself to be most at odds with the public interest. In particular, opponents of an effective and permanent fix to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act’s ban on phone-unlocking have cited language in recent trade agreements as a reason why any such legislation could be impossible — even though it’s been described as simple “common sense” by the White House. Regardless of the truth of those opponents’ claims, they slow the pace of change, even for extremely popular proposals. In other words, industry interests at the international level are trying to tie the hands of democratically elected legislators and dictate which laws are unacceptable.
Hollywood is already deeply, deeply embedded into the process of negotiating international trade agreements. It seems rather blatant to create a position whose role is pretty clearly designed solely to serve Hollywood’s interests at the expense of the public. Senator Hatch is making it clear who he serves, and it’s not the public. To be so explicit, and to state directly in the bill that the role of this job is to “advocate on behalf of… intellectual property interests” is incredible. Congress shouldn’t be in the role of picking winners and losers, but Hatch has decided to write into the law that only one particular industry must win, even if it is obsolete.
As Upton Sinclair once famously wrote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” On this point, Hatch’s proposal is clear: question the assumption that “vigorous” copyright and patent enforcement may be at odds with innovation, or that the public interest should supercede industry interest, and you’re out of a job. Appointing a representative for the industries dedicated to “strong” copyright and patent laws all but guarantees that U.S. trade policy will reflect the industry-friendly regulations that representative is paid to promote, regardless of whether they are in the public interest.