The USTR's Revolving Door With Copyright And Patent Maximalists Removes All Credibility

from the it's-all-about-jobs...-their-own dept

Tim Lee, over at the Washington Post's The Switch, has an excellent, detailed look at why the USTR seems to think that patent and copyright maximalism is in the best interests of America. There are two key reasons, which I'll paraphrase as (1) the employees at USTR have strong connections to copyright and patent maximalists, and there's a constant revolving door between USTR and IP maximalists, and (2) they're basically ignorant of how the digital world works today.

The ignorance issue is disturbing, but somewhat understandable. As we pointed out just recently, the USTR relies heavily on Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs), which are deeply involved in these things. Members get access to the documents -- much more access than even Congress, and certainly a lot more access than the public which gets none at all. The IP ITAC is almost entirely made up of legacy industry players who come from a different era, and who know little about today's innovation. In fact, they tend to fight against innovation. As Lee notes, the USTR used to work mostly with exporters -- companies who ship stuff to foreign countries, and their general outlook on everything is from that perspective. But that makes no sense when you're talking about information. Rather than crafting export policies, they're creating information infrastructure policy, when the very flow of information is critical to innovation. And they simply don't get that. At all.

Lee also reports (for the first time publicly) how the USTR flat out rejected a recent attempt to put copyright law expert Andrew Bridges on the IP ITAC. Bridges is the person you should thank for having music in your pocket, because he defended the legality of the first MP3 player when the RIAA tried to sue it out of existence. He's also worked closely with a ton of internet companies and knows better than just about anyone I know how innovation works these days. You may also recognize him for fighting the US government's bogus attempt to seize a hip hop blog. Even though his expertise is copyright law, the USTR said he could only join the "Information and Communications Technologies" ITAC, which is not his specialty, so he refused the pointless appointment.

But the really concerning part is the insane revolving door between IP maximalist industry players and the USTR. Lee details a very long list of folks who have gone in both directions, between the USTR and the pharmaceutical industry, as well as between the USTR and various copyright maximalist organizations. Here's just a snippet.

The lead American negotiator was Ralph Ives, who was promoted to Assistant USTR for Pharmaceutical Policy soon after the negotiations concluded. He was aided by Claude Burcky, Deputy Assistant USTR for Intellectual Property. Less than three months after the Australia agreement was signed, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that both men would take jobs at pharmaceutical or medical device companies. Their new employers stood to benefit from some of the pro-patent-holder provisions of the treaty. Ives took a job at AdvaMed, a trade group representing medical device manufacturers. Burcky moved to the pharmaceutical and medical device company Abbott Labs.

Since then, Abbott has hired two other USTR veterans, Andrea Durkin and Karen Hauda, according to the women's LinkedIn pages. Another USTR official, Kira Alvarez, has gone through the revolving door twice over the last 15 years. Her LinkedIn profile indicates that she served at USTR from 2000 to 2003, spent four years at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, and then returned to USTR in 2008 as Deputy Assistant USTR for Intellectual Property Enforcement. She was there for five years before she took a job at AbbVie, a pharmaceutical firm that spun off from Abbott earlier this year.

According to his official biography at the site of the Biotechnology Industry Associaiton, Joseph Damond "was chief negotiator of the historic U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade agreement" during his 12 years at USTR. He then spent five years at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America before moving to BIO. Justin McCarthy went through the revolving door in the other direction. According to a USTR press release, McCarthy was responsible for intellectual property issues at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer from 2003 to 2005 before he was hired at USTR. He now works at a lobbying firm.

And that's just the basics. Of course, this is the very nature of the USTR. After all, their boss, Michael Froman, was once described by Reuters as "one of the most egregious examples... of the way the revolving door works between business and government generally." So that's the guy who sets the tone there, though Froman's only been at the USTR for a brief time. This culture is pervasive.

And it's a real problem. The USTR doesn't seem to recognize that what's best for a few large industry players who might give the USTR employees jobs a few months down the road, can be disastrous for both the American public and the American economy. I've had USTR people try to defend what they do to me by claiming that "it's our job to support US trade interests." But that's taking an excessively dangerous view of what their role really is. It's a myopically narrow view of what the US's trade interests are, based on a laughably narrowminded group of individuals whose interests may be quite harmful to the wider US public and economy.

The USTR may claim it's trying to help promote American jobs, but it really looks like it's their own jobs that are most important to them.

Either way, this is even more evidence that the USTR simply has no credibility on issues like copyright and patents. There's no reason why this "free trade" agreement should include intellectual property in the first place, since it's the very antithesis of free trade. But now that it's quite clear that the USTR is impossibly biased on this issue, it's even more reason to simply strip out the IP chapter entirely.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2013 @ 11:53am

    The USTR revolving door sounds just like Congress. I can't afford Obama Care, so something is terribly wrong with the medical and insurance industries in the USA. Which seems to indicate the USTR is a giant failure for most people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2013 @ 12:18pm

    they seem to have a nice little closed off system there. Imagine the opposite, internet innovators and users writing laws about the internet and imaginary property with the corporations and industry kept out of it completely, no government and no corporations. They would certainly not go for that so why do they think we would?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), 27 Nov 2013 @ 12:24pm

    They're job is to keep rich people rich, and that's about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2013 @ 1:26pm

    ignorant, no. ignoring, yes!

    'his expertise is copyright law, the USTR said he could only join the "Information and Communications Technologies" ITAC, which is not his specialty'

    and those who are involved are experts in exactly what? spreading bullshit, lies and lining their own pockets, it would seem!!

    if it wasn't for the 'revolving door, there would be no 'trade negotiations' anyway. none of those employed have the necessary skills, just the contacts, to go between the two doors. if it wasn't for the total lack of concern for anything and everything other than to get the best deals for those who will be their future employers, they would not only be out of a job, they would be unable to be reemployed anyway. what skills have they got, other than the ability to lie through their teeth? even then, the power they have bestowed on them is disgraceful in the way they use it! they all need sacking and never employed again!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 27 Nov 2013 @ 1:44pm

    Next Snowden, please

    Wouldn't it be great if the next great whistleblower leaked boatloads of ITAC documents and USTR treaty drafts? If everything was publicly leaked, it would be harder to deny the facts, and even the NSA had trouble keeping the smokescreen up once the facts were out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 27 Nov 2013 @ 2:51pm

    if' WE COULD

    If we could show al the money these folks SPEND to protect themselves,
    1) shows HOW much they are protection.
    2)NOT paying for protectionism, would make them MORE money over a shorter time.
    3)obsolescence.. in tech is about 5 years. go look how old USB is..
    4) music and movies?
    MOST movies are augmented from Published books. Small changes to make it CR..ask disney.
    MOST music tends to be derivative of previous materials..and even the musicians are saying they ARNT getting paid by the MANY levels of protection.. they make MORE money singing LIVE, then from the CORPS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jay (profile), 27 Nov 2013 @ 3:38pm

    Why are we in the 1930s?

    Please explain this to me... We tried this type of stuff in 1929. Very bad treaties that usurped sovereignty to corporations for short term profit over long-term gain.

    One of the big ones before that was the Treaty of Versailles.

    Why are we seriously repeating history where the extremely conservative view of the world lead us to bad circumstances?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2013 @ 12:59am

      Re: Why are we in the 1930s?

      It's not so much conservative (change carefully, cautiously, and only where necessary, but do not fail to change where doing so is good and helpful.) As flat out corrupt with a dash of reactionary (everything was better before, let's turn back the clock! (No, our idea of how things were isn't terribly well aquainted with reality.)).

      Actually conservative policy would slow innovation and change, perhaps, but wouldn't be flat out sabotaging damn near everything...

      (The other direction is 'progressive', which is basically 'oooh, shiny new idea/item! must have/use now! who cares about side effects and consiquences?'. I figure the ideal is slightly progressive conservativism, myself.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crade (profile), 2 Dec 2013 @ 11:07am

        Re: Re: Why are we in the 1930s?

        Your explanation of conservative policy is kinda ridiculous :) pretty sure thats what basically everyone will claim their policy is... "don't change if changing will be harmful and don't fail to change when it's good and helpful".. um duh! It's which things you think are going to be harmful or good and helpful that are going to be the point of contention lol.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2013 @ 4:02pm

    The problem is that our laws are based on what politicians get in return in the form of campaign contributions and revolving door favors and laws should be written based on what's in the public interest and not what best serves the personal interests of politicians. This is why copy'right' length lasts 95+ years and kept getting retroactively extended. The laws need to be changed to serve the public interest and not the interests of those providing politicians with campaign contributions and revolving door favors. The whole revolving door favor racket should land politicians and whatever executives providing for them in jail. This is unacceptable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2013 @ 4:04pm

    "Removes All Credibility"

    This makes the faulty assumption they had credibility in the first place. They did not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Alien Rebel (profile), 27 Nov 2013 @ 5:00pm

    So Obvious

    In doing some personal investigative work, I came across KEI's list of insiders working on ACTA with past USTR Ron Kirk. One person of interest to my research was on the list; Sandra Aistars, Time Warner VP. In December 2010 she became the executive director of the Copyright Alliance, maximalist astroturf created by the Nickles Group, LLC.

    It turns out that Ron Kirk and former Sen. Don Nickles together were co-chairs of the COMPETE Coalition (electricity utility association) just prior to Kirk becoming USTR. Seems a logical conclusion that Ron spoke to Don after becoming USTR, and recommended Sandra to head the Alliance. "Hey Don, I have a great lawyer for you, . . "

    Learning of the one degree of separation between Ron and Don seemed noteworthy at the time, particularly since Nickles is such an outstanding example of lobbyist for the maximalist. Since then, though, it's become obvious that the "revolving door" is more of a NASCAR track, with the object being to go around just as fast as one can. Do they have a trophy for who's fastest? Would make for a nice awards gala in D.C.

    ACTA insiders / KEI, Oct. 13, 2009;

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 27 Nov 2013 @ 9:11pm

    A government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Alien Rebel (profile), 27 Nov 2013 @ 9:34pm


      SCOTUS is working hard to remedy that; once they give corporations full person-hood status, then we will indeed have a government of, by, and for the "people."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2013 @ 8:38am

    Yes, statutory law can be riddled with holes, head-scratching exceptions, etc., but it does seem a bit surprising that this topic would be raised without mentioning 18 USC 207, a copy of which can be found at:

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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