US Government Threatening To Kill Free Trade With South Africa After Hollywood Complained It Was Adopting American Fair Use Principles
from the what-the-actual-fuck? dept
Hollywood hates fair use. Even though Hollywood frequently relies on fair use, it seems to go out of its way to fight against fair use being used anywhere else. The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) (which is a mega trade group of intellectual property maximalist trade groups, including the MPAA, the RIAA, ESA, IFTA and AAP) has freaked out any time any other country in the world has sought to have American-style fair use. Over a decade ago IIPA flipped out when Israel’s fair use rules matched the US’s. The group and other surrogates have also fought American-style fair use in the UK and Australia after both of those countries explored implementing American-style fair use.
The IIPA has a playbook all set for any country (outside of the US) that is thinking about adopting US style fair use policies: it claims that because fair use relies heavily on judicial common law, no other country but the US can possibly have it, because it will lead to lots of litigation until the courts set the boundaries. Of course, this seems pretty silly, as there are easy ways around this (indeed, it’s why fair use kinda works fine in Israel). The latest country to explore implementing an American-style fair use is, as we reported last year, South Africa. Its copyright reform seemed quite smart and well-thought out.
And, of course, Hollywood absolutely couldn’t let that stand. Earlier this year, the IIPA included South Africa in its usual omnibus submission to the USTR for the Special 301 list, the ridiculous annual process by which big copyright holders tell the USTR what countries aren’t implementing the copyright laws they want, and the USTR tries to “shame” those countries into playing by Hollywood’s rules. In this year’s submission, the IIPA seems positively apoplectic that South Africa might implement American-style fair use. And, of course, it pulls out the bogus “so much litigation!” warning:
Most recently, the National Assembly of South Africa adopted legislation in December 2018 that also features a broad spectrum of vaguely delineated exceptions. On top of a set of extremely broad new exceptions and limitations to copyright protection (and the existing ?fair dealing? system), the new law adds a version of the U.S. ?fair use? statute that will allow judges to excuse certain uses from licenses. This version of ?fair use? can be applied to eight broad and unclear ?purposes? of use, such as ?scholarship, teaching and education,? and ?expanding access for underserved populations.? The proposed ?fair use? system lacks the decades of legal precedent that have served to define, refine, and qualify that doctrine in the United States. The effects of this provision, along with overlapping exceptions and limitations, will result in confusion and uncertainty about which uses of copyright works require licenses, and could hinder investment in and the development of new copyright services in South Africa. It will, in particular, imperil the legitimate markets for educational texts, locally distributed works, and online works in general. Taken as a whole, these provisions are inconsistent with South Africa?s international obligations since they far exceed the degree of exceptions and limitations permitted under the WTO TRIPS Agreement (the ?three-step test?).
First, kudos to the IIPA for at least admitting outright that South Africa is looking to implement a “version of the U.S. ‘fair use’ statute,” because I wouldn’t have put it past them to ignore the fact that this exists in the US and all of the IIPA members’ members have used it to build parts of their business.
But the claim that this is inconsistent with international obligations is utter hogwash. As we’ve discussed in the past, the “three-step test” is often used by Hollywood as a strawman pretending that it blocks users’ rights in copyright law. But that’s not true. If it was, then the US couldn’t even have the fair use system we do. But we do. So, no, the three-step test doesn’t prevent it.
Now, here’s the really fucked up part in all of this. While any competent US Trade Rep (USTR) would look at this and laugh off Hollywood’s usual nonsense and point out that if we have fair use here in the US, it’s pretty fucking rich to think that we should attack an ally for implementing the same law, that’s not what happened. Instead, just recently the USTR directly announced that because of these very concerns, it’s opening an investigation into South Africa’s intellectual property processes, and it could lead to the USTR kicking South Africa out of a very favorable free trade agreement (the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)):
South Africa: USTR is accepting a petition from the International Intellectual Property Alliance based on concerns with South Africa?s compliance with the GSP IP criterion, in the area of copyright protection and enforcement.
All because South Africa wants to implement a totally reasonable copyright plan that respects the public’s rights in a manner entirely consistent with current US law. And the US (by way of Hollywood lobbyists) wants to punish the country for that. This is a potentially huge and incredible situation which is not getting very much attention at all — which is just how Hollywood, the IIPA, the MPAA, and the RIAA want it.