Data Shows Homeland Security Is Lying When It Claims Intellectual Property Seizures Are About Health & Safety
from the just-not-true dept
For quite some time, intellectual property maximalists have seized upon an incredibly dishonest (though all too frequently successful with policy makers) strategy of conflating a variety of different issues to make it appear that extreme enforcement of copyright and trademark law was all about “protecting the safety of Americans.” This was a key point made by SOPA’s biggest cheerleaders at the US Chamber of Commerce. They took a very, very, very tiny number of cases where safety was an issue (things like counterfeit drugs) and lumped them into a huge category of infringement (online file sharing) where no safety was at issue — and despite the issues being entirely unrelated, they would then claim we needed SOPA to protect the safety of Americans.
This particular sleight of hand has been long adopted by the Department of Homeland Security, and in particular its Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division, whose former boss, John Mortin, used to regularly interchange and conflate these issues to make all kinds of infringement be considered a massive “safety” threat to the public. And, of course the White House’s big “strategic plan” concerning intellectual property enforcement insists that “health and safety” are among its “primary concerns.” However, with Homeland Security releasing its latest stats concerning intellectual property “seizures,” it’s become quite clear that they very rarely have anything to do with health and safety, but much more often are just about protecting the business models of large companies (like the one John Mortin went to work for after leaving ICE).
As Jonathan Band points out in the link above, there doesn’t seem to be very much “health and safety” protection behind these efforts.
The DHS report for IP seizures for 2012 contains statistics for seizures of counterfeit goods harmful to safety and security. In 2012, this category contained only 11.5% of counterfeit goods seized, measured by estimated MSRP of the goods. The safety and security category likewise represented just 14.8 % of the number of seizures. In 2011, 17.5% of the counterfeit goods seized fell within the safety and security category, and 17.6% of the number of seizures.
Although the March 24, 2014 press release focuses on health and safety, the actual report for 2013 seizures does not contain a breakdown for the safety and security category, unlike the report for 2012. Using the same methodology as the 2012 report, the safety and security category in 2013 can be estimated to contain less than 10% of the value of good seized, and under 14% of the number of seizures.
In short, for the past three years, counterfeit goods threatening safety and security represent significantly less than 20% of the goods seized, measured either by the value of the goods or the number of seizures. Moreover, the percentage of dangerous counterfeit goods is decreasing.
In fact, Band points out that it seems rather questionable that DHS is insisting that “a great deal more needs to be done to protect the public from the health and safety threats that counterfeiters pose” when it doesn’t appear that DHS is actually paying much attention to actual health and safety issues at all.
In 2013, fully 40% of the value of seized goods fell in the handbags/wallets category. Another 30% was in the watches/jewelry category. As noted above, less than 10% of the value related to safety and security. Similarly, 35% of the number of seizures involved wearing apparel/accessories, while under 14% of the number of seizures concerned safety and security goods.
It certainly is possible that some consumers are deceived when they purchase counterfeit handbags, watches, and accessories. But most consumers know exactly what they’re getting when they purchase “luxury” items at a deep discount on Canal Street. In contrast, no consumer intentionally buys fake pharmaceuticals that could kill him. Any dollar spent on intercepting a counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbag or Rolex watch is a dollar not spent protecting U.S. consumers from counterfeit drugs and automotive parts.
There is one other possible interpretation of the small and decreasing share of safety and security seizures: that the threat of counterfeit products dangerous to health and safety has been grossly exaggerated by rights holders and the government to justify DHS’s IP enforcement budget. In other words, protecting public health and safety has largely been a pretext for government spending on protecting the commercial interests of corporate rights holders – many of which are foreign owned.
What? DHS and ICE using claims of “health and safety” as a pretext to protect business interests? How could that possibly be…?