Administration Bangs The Drum In Support Of Needless Protectionism On World IP Day

from the you're-doing-it-wrong dept

Well, today was "World Intellectual Property Day," and I had hoped to just ignore the whole thing, but, as was expected on such a day, the politicians were out in force, talking up the importance of "protecting intellectual property," with none of them really discussing the key issues: whether or not that sort of protectionism really is good for the economy, or the growing body of economic research that shows it is not. At all. Instead, we just get the same statements based on the old myths of intellectual property. Outgoing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke gave a mildly bland statement on the "critical importance" of such protectionist policies. But the really bizarre statement came from James Cole, our recently appointed Deputy Attorney General, who really takes the cake for ill-informed rhetoric concerning innovation and intellectual property.
This country has a deep and rich history of developing innovative products and groundbreaking inventions that have helped to shape our world. Intellectual property is one of America's greatest assets and protection of these assets is vital to our economy, our health, and our legacy.
Thing is... the first sentence and the second sentence have little to do with one another. Our deep and rich history is not because of our intellectual property laws. In fact, much of our history involved very weak IP laws (some of which allowed us to industrialize faster). Recent studies, such as those by Eric von Hippel at MIT, have shown that the vast majority of productive innovation is done for reasons that have nothing to do with intellectual property laws. So why would Cole make such a statement?
Today, as we recognize the 11th Annual World Intellectual Property Day, we celebrate the creativity and innovation of American music, literature, film, art and the inventive spirit that have set this country apart. The growth of new technologies, increased broadband access to the Internet and global manufacturing distribution channels provide increasing opportunities to market American products and creative content around the world.
Yes, and much of that had nothing whatsoever to do with intellectual property laws. In fact, much of it happened in spite of intellectual property laws. The whole film business was launched on the basis of trying to hide from Thomas Edison's patents.
Yet, on this day we must also recognize that there are those who exploit these same technological advances to profit illegally from the hard work of American authors, artists and inventors through criminal copyright infringement, trademark counterfeiting, trade secret theft, economic espionage, and other intellectual property (IP) offenses.
Like the founders of Hollywood? Like Disney, exploiting our cultural heritage and then locking up those works?
Unfortunately, criminals rely upon American consumers to buy their counterfeit goods. According to recent research from the National Crime Prevention Council, most Americans do not fully understand the scope or consequences of intellectual property crime and are susceptible to being swayed by the lure of a bargain, especially in these tough economic times.
Actually, multiple studies have shown that counterfeiting isn't really that big of a problem. It's not that American's don't understand the scope. It's that industries who benefit from excess gov't protectionism have massively inflated the actual problem and most consumers recognize that these concerns are bogus. They know when they're buying a fake purse, and no harm is being done to them or the original brand. The purchase is often aspirational in that they buy the counterfeit when they can afford it, knowing that when they get enough money, they'll buy the real version. In fact, studies have shown that massive numbers of counterfeit purchasers go on to buy the real thing within just a few years. You would think this info would be relevant. Why does Cole ignore it?
As chair of the Department's Task Force on Intellectual Property that Attorney General Eric Holder established last year, I know we must continue to work to change the perception that IP crime is risk-free and victimless through aggressive criminal enforcement of laws designed to protect the American public and ensure the quality of products reaching consumers. Intellectual property crime contributes to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, costs our economy billions of dollars annually and exposes Americans to potentially dangerous products, affecting public health and safety and national security.
Almost nothing in this paragraph is accurate. The "loss" numbers, in both jobs and dollars has been widely debunked. The studies mentioned earlier point out that in many, many cases it is a victimless issue. And, at most, this should be a civil issue between a rightsholder and an infringer. The government has no place in this.
The task force has sought to strengthen IP protections through an increased focus on domestic and international enforcement and better coordination with our state and local law enforcement partners. We've made significant strides to obtain convictions of online distributors of counterfeit pharmaceuticals; large-scale producers and smugglers of counterfeit goods ranging from luxury items to military-grade computer system hardware; distributors of pirated digital movies and music; and those who have misappropriated highly-valued trade secret information from American corporations.
Note the conflation of very, very different types of issues. Also note the ignoring of the massive due process and First Amendment violations that happened in the process of seizing domains from those falsely accused. Gee... I wonder why.
The risk to the public of counterfeits is clear.
No, actually, it's not. There are a few specific cases where there is a risk: genuinely fake medicines (not grey market imports) and counterfeit military & safety equipment. But those are very, very small issues. And yet they're used to give Cole's Justice Department a wide berth in stomping on people's basic rights, turning civil, non-commercial issues into bogus criminal indictments, and taking questionable steps that appear to contradict basic free speech and due process principles.
Though we have accomplished a great deal, we recognize that we cannot rest on what has been done. The attorney general and I are committed to continuing to do more and with your help, we will hold accountable these criminals, protect the American public and safeguard one of America's greatest assets.
Please, don't. You're making things worse, not better. You're encouraging innovation to avoid the US and go elsewhere. You're making the US the laughingstock of the world by seizing domains and censoring the internet while pretending to be in favor of free speech. Innovation does not work by "protecting" anything. It's about enabling. And the DOJ is doing the opposite of that.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Nick Dynice (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 3:56pm

    Please leve your thoughts on the World IP Day Facebook wall.
    http://www.facebook.com/worldipday

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 4:48pm

      Re:

      I would, but that requires signing up to failbook, something I will never do...

       

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      Nick Taylor, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 6:22pm

      Done :)

      Bet I get censored

       

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        Hephaestus (profile), Apr 27th, 2011 @ 8:16am

        Re:

        "Done :) Bet I get censored"

        Bet I get censored worse ...

        I agree we should all celebrate!!!!

        Three strikes laws and disconnecting people from the internet.
        ISP monitoring of users.
        The slow erosion of the 1st, 4th, and 14th amendments.
        ...The silencing of 84,000 web sites by ICE.
        How prior restraint has become the norm for Homeland security and ICE.
        How being accused with out proof is enough in this day and age.
        95 year long copyrights, so our great grand children will not starve.
        The loss of several million public domain books when copyright was extended.

        Yes, we do have alot to celebrate. We should all rejoice in the knowledge that ACTA, COICA, HADOPI, and DEA have become or will soon be law.

        For those of you who didn't get it, that was sarcasm.See More

         

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      Brian Sheehan, Apr 27th, 2011 @ 4:10am

      Re: FB Comments page

      Just tried to comment but no option to do so on the linked page. Guess they took commenting off-line. How open and progressive.

       

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    Jay (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 3:58pm

    Counterfeits in movies

    "They know when they're buying a fake purse, and no harm is being done to them or the original brand. The purchase is often aspirational in that they buy the counterfeit when they can afford it, knowing that when they get enough money, they'll buy the real version."

    Just to back this up, you can actually see this occurrence happening in movies. It struck me as odd in at least a few movies, people would naturally buy counterfeit products in the movies because there was no law against it.

    Serendipity. It's odd, but I'm sure there are other movies that show very similar transactions as just a part of life.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 4:13pm

    People ought to start protests on IP day.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 4:26pm

    Oh, dear, that was today? I should have bought a new outfit. A knock-off Prada would have been nice.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 4:36pm

    In other news, now the U.S. has two states that officially recognize the PP as a political party.

    http://www.pirate-party.us/news.php

    Also note

    "Marcus Kesler and the Oklahoma Pirate Party are close, as are the Pirates in Washington and Oregon."

    I can't wait for us to have one here in Cali, if that will ever happen. I would register in a second.

     

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    abc gum, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 5:31pm

    "Well, today was "World Intellectual Property Day,""

    Heh, this is too much. Is there a hallmark card for that?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:09pm

    "Intellectual property crime contributes to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs"

    Monopolies result in less aggregate output, more aggregate output requires more labor to produce, monopolies result in fewer jobs. Econ 101. IP costs jobs.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 27th, 2011 @ 9:17am

      Re:

      "Economists left and right agree," Mellor and Kramer write, "that consumers are the big losers -- second only to would-be cab owners. They pay higher fares, wait longer for a cab, and get worse service than they would with competition. Poor, minority, and elderly consumers are hit especially hard." Research by the US Department of Transportation shows that regulations locking up the taxi trade rob the public of $ 800 million a year -- and prevent the creation of 38,000 new jobs."

      http://www.jeffjacoby.com/5805/break-open-the-taxicab-monopoly

      [emphasis added]

      Monopolies cost jobs. IP are govt imposed monopolies. IP costs jobs. You want more jobs, abolish government imposed monopolies. That includes patents. Patents prevent competitors from entering the market. Those competitors create jobs.

      (I've posted the following before, but I think it deserves to be re-posted. This is with respect to taxi cab monopolies, I know it's a bit off topic from the IP subject but the taxi cab monopoly topic doesn't come up that much so I might as well post it here).

      Not only that, but taxi cab monopoly abolition would increase safety. Workers who specialize in driving will do a better job, and they will drive more safely (since they get more driving experience), than individuals that only generalize in driving as a part of their life. Taxi cab companies have incentive to avoid hiring and to get rid of reckless drivers that speed or drive recklessly (ie: ones that get, or have gotten, tickets for doing such). Individuals are more likely to do these things. Taxi cab drivers don't want to get fired (and they don't want a police giving them a ticket, which could also cost them their license or a temporary suspension of it and hence their jobs), they want to stay employable (don't want traffic tickets going on your record, looks bad when trying to get hired), and so they will make more of an effort to drive safely. If an individual who's not in the transportation business gets a ticket, it's not that big of a deal, because he doesn't have to answer to his boss about it since his boss probably doesn't care. If an individual loses his license or gets it temporarily suspended, he can find public or other transportation (pay a friend to give him a ride). If a taxi cab driver does so, that's his job. He wants to drive safely.

      Drunk driving would also be less of a problem. More people who plan to get drunk will take a taxi to the places where they plan to drink and back home (since taxi cabs will be far more ubiquitous and cheaper, as they are in other countries without such monopolies) and so a sober person will be driving. This makes things safer not only for the drunks, but for the sober people on the road who would otherwise be endangered by the drunks. Don't let politicians grandstand about "I want to reduce drunk driving fatalities". It's a lie that gives them an excuse to grandstand for political points. If they really wanted to reduce these things, they would abolish the taxi cab monopolies that they create. The only thing they truly care about is the plutocracy that they create, not about the safety and welfare of their citizens.

       

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    gnosti, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:51pm

    IP Victimization...

    "[...]I know we must continue to work to change the perception that IP crime is risk-free and victimless through aggressive criminal enforcement of laws designed to protect the American public and ensure the quality of products reaching consumers.[...]"

    So in other words he wants to show the American public that "IP crime" isn't risk-free and victimless by creating risk and manufacturing victims by enforcing terribly written IP Laws. Then turn around and say its to protect the public?

    I am beginning to wonder just how ludicrous the law has to be before the whole "We have to protect the public" excuse begins to fall apart.
    This one seems to be the least justifiable so far. Especially when corporation such as Monsanto are clearly working against the public interest in their crusade against farmers who don't use their product by using "IP law" to sue them into the proverbial dirt when wind driven cross pollination of Round-Up Ready product contaminates some of the crops belonging to a farmer who uses more traditional methods of growing crops.
    Or the fact that RIAA and MPAA have notoriously worked against the public interest in their aggressive attacks on technology.

    You know what the public is interested in? It's not protecting corporations or even an individuals Intellectual Property.
    The public is interested in innovation, they want the coolest new gadget and they want it to work. They could care less about who holds what patent on the button they use to turn it on.
    The public is interested in paying less for non-scarce goods. Data is practically free to create and redistribute ad-infinitum. There is NO reason to buy a physical album of 16 songs (some of which you may not like) for $20, when one can obtain the same songs for less. That is to say, unless there is an added value in it for you, such as the cover art, or a chance to have dinner with the musicians who made the album.
    The public is interested in service as opposed to goods. In this harsh economic reality in which we live, people want to feel like there getting some a bit extra with their purchase. The realize that money is a scarce good with limited buying potential. Why spend that money on an abundant good (that is being way over priced and heavily regulated when obtained through legal channels) when one can both obtain that same good for free elsewhere, and spend ones money on something that is equally scarce as money, such as a once in a lifetime experience or a special album of ones favorite band that includes some sort of scarce good with it?
    But most of all, the public is interested in not being hassled. They don't want to have to feel like they have to look over their proverbial shoulder every time they download something. They definitely don't want to have to stop getting cool innovative technology because of some absurd patent that manages to patent something that is common sense.

    NONE of these interests are helped by stronger enforcement of IP law and all of them are hurt by it.

    So please Mr.Cole, stop pretending you serve the interest of the public and be honest and say you serve the short sighted goals of childish corporations who never learned to share and who in all honesty probably hate the public, because they sure as hell hate the public domain.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 8:37pm

      Re: IP Victimization...

      IP law exists for the same reason that taxi cab monopolies and just about every other govt imposed monopoly exists. To oppress the public and exploit the poor.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 9:33pm

    Corporate Welfare

    Come on, you Americans! This frenzied IP enforcement is blatant corporate welfare. Don't you pay high enough taxes already? Every dollar of your hard-earned that is spent by your corrupt bureaucrats on corporate welfare is a dollar which is not spent on buying you something useful, like decent infrastructure, good schools, a universal health system or services for the less fortunate. Stop subsidizing the rich, they do not need it. They are the perps, remember? Subsidize the poor, you know, the victims. That way, you get less crime from the poor who have got desperate.

    The present crop of congress critters are never going to get it. They are bought and paid for. Get yourselves some new ones. Stop voting for the incumbents.

     

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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 10:36pm

    Accept No Substitutes!

    Beware of celebrating fake “World IP Days”! Make sure your commemoration falls on the guaranteed genuine™ one-and-only® True World IP Day©! Because if you are duped into celebrating on the wrong day, then the Pirates win.

     

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    abc gum, Apr 27th, 2011 @ 4:56am

    A large portion of the public is more concerned with dragging their asses out of the ditch they were recently kicked into rather than preserving some fat cat "Intellectual Property" claim. Celebrating the kicking of additional dirt upon them seems a bit draconian.

     

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    AJBarnes, Apr 27th, 2011 @ 5:12am

    Change the title

    It really should be Buy A Politician Day! How much money does it take to get your very own politician to sit in your lap and make that vicious little yip-yip sound?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 27th, 2011 @ 5:29am

    I prefer to think of it as a Theft of the Commons Memorial Day.

     

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