WIPO's Development Agenda At The Crossroads: Does IP Or Development Take Priority?

from the crunch-time dept

One reason why agreements like ACTA, TPP, TAFTA/TTIP and TISA have proliferated in recent years is that the US, EU and allies are losing their tight grip on international bodies like the WTO. That means they are unable to use traditional fora to draw up trade agreements that largely serve their interests. Instead, they have started forming ad hoc invitation-only groups that can negotiate in secret, without needing to accommodate the views of emerging economies that are starting to assert themselves.

That tussle between the old and the new power blocs has now spread to WIPO, as Intellectual Property Watch's report on a recent meeting of the WIPO Committee on Development and Intellectual Property reveals:

At the heart of the power struggle is the Development Agenda of the organisation. Adopted in 2007, it aimed at instilling a development dimension in all WIPO activities. However, the interpretation of this development dimension and how it should be implemented is regularly an object of friction.

Last night, after a tense week, final statements sounded warning signs of a deep political divide on the orientation of the organisation, which developed countries underlined was financed by users of the global IP system, and whose main goal is the promotion of the protection of intellectual property, and developing countries recalled is a United Nations agency with development at its core.
There are two world-views colliding here. The first, held by the US and the EU for example, is that WIPO's central task is to spread and strengthen intellectual monopolies around the world, since these, they assert, are inherently desirable. The second, espoused by emerging economies, is that such monopolies are not an end in themselves, but tools for enhancing economies and the well-being of the public. That implies monopolies that cause harm -- for example, pharma patents that lead to unaffordable drugs for the vast majority of the world's population -- should be reined in, rather than encouraged. Naturally, that does not sit well with nations like the US and EU whose priority is how much money patent and copyright monopolies can generate for the companies that own them.

The shifting mood among some at WIPO is clear from this statement made by South Africa during the meeting:

Although regretting the absence of agreement over the week, "what we cannot run away from is the fact that there are some delegations who hold the view that the organisation can go back to pre-2007," he said. "This is something my delegation will fight to the end for!"

"We understand the WIPO Convention," he said, "but this organisation is not a company and we are not part of a board of directors who need to answer to someone. We answer to the public," he said. The people of South Africa are "the only people that we answer to, irrespective of who funds the organisation or where the funding comes from."
South Africa may be in the vanguard in expressing so forcefully its views on the need for a new kind of WIPO, but it is not alone. That means we can expect yet more private agreements among the old guard who increasingly find that they are unable to have their way at traditional organizations like WIPO.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Tice with a J (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 12:42am

    A modest proposal

    We should rename the World Intellectual Property Organization to the Association for Spreading Support for Worldwide Intellectual Property Enforcement.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 12:48am

    Re: A modest proposal

    Our Interests First Organization.

     

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  3.  
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    Whatever, May 29th, 2014 @ 1:30am

    development to what, exactly?

    This is a classic case of the have nots trying to climb up to the haves, but without having to do the actual work to achieve it. It also shows few seem to understand that before you can advance on the coat tails of others, they must first advance ahead of you.

    More and more of what is created every day depends on IP. Our homes are filled with it, we make phone calls on it, our cars run cleaner because of it. But without those who actually advance the arts, we end up in a situation of everyone looking at everyone else and copying what they are doing, without really advancing.

    Fundamentally, we need to have systems and policies in place that encourage true advancements and development, and not just mimicry and copying. The furthest a have no country or people can rise up to is to an imitation of the top players, but never beyond them, because they are not learning or advancing by knowledge, but only advancing by copying and derivative actions.

    Yes, the development comes quickly and many can "catch up" in some ways, mostly successful in countries who provide super cheap labor to make the common products of the rest of the world (China, Indonesia, India, and Thailand are currently on that list). But as those countries move up a bit, the pressure for higher wages and better living standards stunt their abilities to remain competitive, and then tend to fall in a slump that they don't recover from (looking at Japan, as an example).

    Since they will never get past the leaders and lead themselves, these countries will only go as far as the others. If they others are discouraged from advancing, everyone including the have nots suffer as well.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 3:07am

    Re: development to what, exactly?

    It's about being legally prohibited from re-inventing the wheel when you're trying to build a cart. The only choice you have is to license the wheel (and every other component) at a rate that dwarfs what you'd expect to sell the cart for.

     

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  5.  
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    Ninja (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 3:18am

    If the fight is between money and the people we know who is going to win here. Unless there is some huge popular mobilization. Which is less probable in this case.

     

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  6.  
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    Greg (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 3:24am

    Re: development to what, exactly?

    Whats at issue is the policies that are being pushed by the US and to a smaller extent the EU are driven by lobbyists from large companies who wish to keep the door closed as long as possible. Intellectual property is only deemed as property by laws promoted & crafted in a lot of cases by very powerful and established companies and have no bearing on what is good for society and the public. Policies and law should be drafted for the good of everyone not to line the pockets of a few large corporations. I'm all for people getting rewarded for innovation but when you class innovation as swiping your finger across a screen then frankly the whole system is completely discredited. When your childrens children don't have access to the Beatles music because its locked away for Life + 70 then the whole system is discredited. I've a suggestion why don't we drop patents and IP tomorrow and move forward on the basis that you had your chance but because you got really really greedy and selfish you'll loose it all. As far as I'm concerned the system is unfixable so lets just do away with it.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Howard (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 4:40am

    Re: development to what, exactly?

    Fundamentally, we need to have systems and policies in place that encourage true advancements and development

    You seem to be in the misconception of intellectual monopolies are needed for innovation.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 4:58am

    Re: development to what, exactly?

    Fundamentally, we need to have systems and policies in place that encourage true advancements and development, and not just mimicry and copying.

    Locking up the use of knowledge behind patents help how? Innovation frequently requires being able to practice, as in use and study, the best available techniques. With this understanding it becomes possible to advance knowledge. Strong I.P.laws prevent this practice, and punish those who reinvent the wheel as well.
    In all fields of human endeavor, mimicry and copying are the foundations of learning and further development. That is what humans do, from when they are born until the day they die.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 6:48am

    shouldn't be hard for them to sort this out. after all, they kept the same guy in charge for a further period of time, even after being involved in some underhanded deals, if i remember correctly (wasn't it something to do with selling computers to Iran or something similar?) this will be chicken feed and they will go the easiest route.

     

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  10.  
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    Robin, May 29th, 2014 @ 8:04am

    Proudly South African

    This makes me very proud to be a South African. Living in the US, people generally have very little sense of the disproportionate impact of IP policies on the marginalized and the poor in foreign countries. Before I came to the US, I worked as Assistant Director at a South African university that during the apartheid years served a particular black community. In the interests of the prevailing doctrine during apartheid of "separate, but [not] equal", my University was systematically underfunded by comparison to the Universities that served white South Africans. One of the ironies of the immediate post-apartheid period, was that black South Africans who could afford to flocked to these formerly white universities, while institutions like my own continued to serve the more disadvantaged sectors of the population. While I was there, efforts to level the playing fields were intermittent, and not wholly successful. But what was particularly galling to me, was that during the post-apartheid period we used to spend nearly as much of our budget on copyright licensing through a copyright licensing agency, as we used to spend on books! I was used to say to the licensing agents in meetings that the ultimate irony was that if we had been able to buy more books, staff, students and librarians would have less need to resort to photocopying necessary course material in order to make it available.

     

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  11.  
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    Jon, May 29th, 2014 @ 8:06am

    Them is ambiguous.

    Naturally, that does not sit well with nations like the US and EU and the companies that own them whose priority is how much money patent and copyright monopolies can generate.


    FTFY, you made it look like companies just owned IP and not nations.

     

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  12.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 8:10am

    Re: development to what, exactly?

    "More and more of what is created every day depends on IP."

    This is a meaningless statement. what is created every day depends on IP because we have a system where nearly anything you create is defined as IP. You're implying that IP is required to create things, but you don't support that implication.

    "we need to have systems and policies in place that encourage true advancements and development"

    I believe that everyone agrees with this.

    "the development comes quickly and many can "catch up" in some way"

    This entire argument strikes me as a case of "do as I say, not as I do." The US (and every modern nation) started off being a nation mostly of businesses who copied the ideas of others, improved on those ideas, and eventually went on to become inventors. But now we're arguing that doesn't work? Nonsense. History proves otherwise.

    Even now, there are no, or nearly no, inventions or advancements that don't build on the work of others. Copying is inherently and inseparably a part of innovation and invention.

     

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  13.  
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    Whatever, May 29th, 2014 @ 8:29am

    Re: Re: development to what, exactly?

    This is a meaningless statement. what is created every day depends on IP because we have a system where nearly anything you create is defined as IP. You're implying that IP is required to create things, but you don't support that implication.

    Look around you. Almost every device you touch every day, from your toaster to your phone to (soon) your thermostat contains complicated electronics, patent or copyright chip designs, proprietary micro code, etc. A perfect example is the typical modern car, which has more processing power than the hubble telescope just to start and run.

    This entire argument strikes me as a case of "do as I say, not as I do." The US (and every modern nation) started off being a nation mostly of businesses who copied the ideas of others, improved on those ideas, and eventually went on to become inventors.

    Yeah, the pace of development in the 1500s is the same as it is today too, right? Considering it took months (if not years) for ideas to be shared, people weren't cribbing the latest idea 5 minutes after it came out.

    Even now, there are no, or nearly no, inventions or advancements that don't build on the work of others. Copying is inherently and inseparably a part of innovation and invention.

    No doubt. However, for all the panic about patents and copyright, we still have tons of new movies, new music, new inventions, and huge advancements in all areas - at a pace that is many times faster than even a generation ago.

    Put another way: If patents and copyright were such an obstacle to advancement, we would all be using 6809 based computers, motorola brick cell phones, and driving heavily polluting cars. You only have to look around you to realize that under what some would paint as an incredibly restrictive and blocked process, we have mind numbing advancements at all levels.

    Blaming the creators for advancing too quickly is the ultimate cop out.

     

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  14.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re: Re: development to what, exactly?

    "for all the panic about patents and copyright, we still have tons of new movies, new music, new inventions, and huge advancements in all areas"

    Just a general comment -- arguing that current IP law is good because "look at all the advancement" is a specious argument that can cut both ways. It could be that current IP law restrains development and that without it we'd have even more of all that.

    But, I argue, the real problem with IP law is a bit tangential -- it's a way for major corporations to cement their positions and lock out smaller creators. Overbearing IP law doesn't harm GE or Disney at all. It harms you and me.

    "Blaming the creators for advancing too quickly is the ultimate cop out."

    Huh?? Who's doing that?

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 8:58am

    Re: Re: Re: development to what, exactly?

    "Look around you. Almost every device you touch every day, from your toaster to your phone to (soon) your thermostat contains complicated electronics, patent or copyright chip designs, proprietary micro code, etc. A perfect example is the typical modern car, which has more processing power than the hubble telescope just to start and run."



    what is the point of this part? you just describe what is, none of which has to rely on patents or copyright. If a solution to a problem is needed, it will be made regardless, out of necessity.


    "Yeah, the pace of development in the 1500s is the same as it is today too, right? Considering it took months (if not years) for ideas to be shared, people weren't cribbing the latest idea 5 minutes after it came out. "


    nonsensical argument. I don't have the slightest clue what kind of point this is supposed to make.


    "No doubt. However, for all the panic about patents and copyright, we still have tons of new movies, new music, new inventions, and huge advancements in all areas - at a pace that is many times faster than even a generation ago."


    and that despite copyright and patents, not because of them


    "Put another way: If patents and copyright were such an obstacle to advancement, we would all be using 6809 based computers, motorola brick cell phones, and driving heavily polluting cars. You only have to look around you to realize that under what some would paint as an incredibly restrictive and blocked process, we have mind numbing advancements at all levels. "


    Again, that is despite patents and copyright. you make no argument, why patents and copyright are any good at all.


    "Blaming the creators for advancing too quickly is the ultimate cop out."


    Nobody blames them of advancing to quick, we blame them of needlessly slowing down progress by locking up knowledge behind patents and copyright.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 9:12am

    Re: Re: Re: development to what, exactly?

    Yeah, the pace of development in the 1500s is the same as it is today too, right? Considering it took months (if not years) for ideas to be shared, people weren't cribbing the latest idea 5 minutes after it came out.

    The rate at which, and how far, ideas spread is limited by the speed and coverage of communication systems. Ideas in the 1500 spread as far and as fast as a man on foot, on horse, or on a sailing vessel could travel. That was months and years. Today they spread as fast as the Internet can spread them, which is seconds and minutes. Your point has nothing to do with the willingness of people to spread ideas, and everything to do with how fast the ideas could be spread.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Lurker Keith, May 29th, 2014 @ 10:55am

    Re: A modest proposal

    I don't like that one. It's too close to "Spreading Excitement all Over the World with Suzumiya Haruhi Brigade".

    Though, I suspect you already knew that.

     

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

  18.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 11:23am

    Re: development to what, exactly?

    Fundamentally, we need to have systems and policies in place that encourage true advancements and development, and not just mimicry and copying.

    No, more mimicry and copying is exactly what we need to encourage true advancements and development. Look around, look at the world around us and all the new developments you talk about, and see if you can find a single original idea anywhere. Even one will do, but good luck finding it. There have been precious few since the Industrial Revolution got going.

    And before anyone tries to comment on the supposed irony of me making a comment like that on a computer on the Internet please save yourself the embarrassment and do a bit of research into the history of the computer. It's fundamentally an outgrowth of the loom (which has been around forever) mixed with boolean logic (based on ancient African traditions, believe it or not,) and its fundamental purposes are to make computation and communication--both things as old as civilization itself--easier.

    "New" ideas, inventions, and creations, both technological and cultural, come almost exclusively by putting together a ton of old things in new ways. The person credited as the inventor of something new generally invented about 1% of it and got the other 99% from things other people had invented before him.

    If I have seen far, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
    -- generally attributed to Isaac Newton. He was quoting Bernard of Chartres, who lived 500 years before him.

    Newton gave us the laws of motion. A few centuries later, Maxwell gave us the laws of electromagnetism. A few decades after Maxwell, a Swiss researcher put the two together and became the most famous scientist of all time. If he hadn't had Newton and Maxwell to build on, though, who knows if even a guy as smart as Albert Einstein would be remembered as a great genius today?

     

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  19.  
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    Whatever, May 29th, 2014 @ 6:31pm

    Re: Re: development to what, exactly?

    No, more mimicry and copying is exactly what we need to encourage true advancements and development.

    The issue is that many of the "have not" countries don't want access for advancement and development of mankind, bur rather just to improve their lot in life without having to do any of the work or to pay someone to have done it for them. They aren't in it to make us all better, they want to make their own lives better, period.

    Most of them end up doing by becoming the "low price provider" for things (hi China!), gutting the economies of larger and more developed countries and generally doing nothing to move us forward.

    Can you imagine how much further ahead Europe and the US would be if they didn't have both overwhelming trade deficits with China and instead had much fuller employment in their own countries?

    What South Africa (and many others) are trying to do is confuse the concept of advancement of mankind with their own personal enrichement. It's two very different stories.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 10:51pm

    Re: Re: Re: development to what, exactly?

    So you're saying that because someone else figured out, say, electromagnetism and how to make it work, no one else can unless they pay through the nose? If you can't afford it, you don't deserve to be smart?

    That's your argument?

     

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  21.  
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    The Wanderer (profile), May 30th, 2014 @ 5:43am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: development to what, exactly?

    I think his point was that the only reason unauthorized copies in the 1500s did not inhibit development and progress is that such fast sharing was not possible, and so the creators were able to exploit their creations much better even in the absence of other effective ways to forbid or limit unauthorized use by others.

    The argument would be that in order for progress and development to occur, some sort of barrier to free reuse by others is necessary, so that the creator of a new thing can profit from (and thus be compensated for the work that went into the creation of) that. Back in the 1500s, the slow pace of travel and communication served as that barrier; today, travel and communication are so fast that they do not provide such a barrier, and so some other barrier is needed.

    I don't think I buy the premise of that argument, that such a barrier is necessary in the first place - but if you do, then the logic does seem to follow fairly well.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 30th, 2014 @ 7:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: development to what, exactly?

    I think his point was that the only reason unauthorized copies in the 1500s did not inhibit development and progress is that such fast sharing was not possible, and so the creators were able to exploit their creations much better even in the absence of other effective ways to forbid or limit unauthorized use by others.

    That is a false argument, as prior to the industrial revolution, production was limited by what a person could produce. To ramp up production meant teaching more people the necessary skills, and letting them set-up their own facilities. Note the guilds were mainly responsible for regulating competition in a local area, like a town, and they ensured that only enough production existed to meet the local needs. Note also, the tradition of journeymen was a means of spreading innovation, as a journeyman was a skilled practitioner in the art, but by traveling between masters, and often outside the area of his original guild, he would pick up any innovations made by masters, and spread them by his traveling.
    In the case of some luxury goods, like silk, attempts were made to keep the secrets in a local area, or country. However the cost of transport was enormous, so in most cases the way to supply an area was for a skilled people to set up shop in the area, as independent businesses.
    Look around, the rate of innovation is highest in fields where sharing is the norm, and slowest where strong IP protection is the norm. Free and open-source software dominates the bleeding edge of computing because of this. Arduino has led to a rich selection of easy to use micro-controllers and accessories.
    Interestingly, the free sharing of ideas tends to lead to lots of small to medium businesses, where strong IP protection leads to one or two large businesses, the latter is a high risk to society because the ultra large businesses become too large to be allowed to fail fast.

     

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  23.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 30th, 2014 @ 9:17am

    Re: Re: Re: development to what, exactly?

    "What South Africa (and many others) are trying to do is confuse the concept of advancement of mankind with their own personal enrichement."

    So they're like the vast majority of US businesses, then.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 30th, 2014 @ 3:50pm

    Unfortunately the shout out comes a little late. With the current reform taking place at WIPO and with the re-election of the incumbent Francis Gurry, the way forward will more and more be that of a US-UK-Australian/developed country corporate structure. Internal managers are a majority and the numbers of staff from the developing world dwindle by the day. There is but a very small handful of people that have a REAL interest to ensure that DEVELOPMENT is at the heart of WIPO's work.

    South Africa, the DAG, and all other developing countries should have spoken up way before now/the latest CDIP meeting of last week. WIPO has turned a corner and it is trying to go back to the days when all they did was to provide services to developed countries/industry with limited substantive-normative work. The way forward -whether understood as good or bad- is to have the WIPO External Offices in these developing countries do the 'development' work and to leave the WIPO Geneva office limited to high level discussions on IP and as being a provider of services, including in the area of copyright.

    The notion that WIPO is a UN body where 'development' should be at the heart of its' mandate is unfortunately not what will happen if developing countries only speak 'blah blah blah' at the WIPO meetings and do ABSOLUTELY nothing about it in reality. If developing countries were serious, I do not think the current Director General would have been given a second term. He is certainly not representing the interests of developing countries - no matter what 'promises' he has made to them. It is odd to think that developing countries can be so easily hoodwinked into thinking they will eventually get their way. After 6 years of many promises they still do not have an agreement for their conference on IP and Development. Seriously?!

     

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  25.  
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    Pragmatic, Jun 1st, 2014 @ 1:52pm

    Re: Re: Re: development to what, exactly?

    Most of them end up doing by becoming the "low price provider" for things (hi China!), gutting the economies of larger and more developed countries and generally doing nothing to move us forward.

    Foxconn. That is... not all. The fact is, big corporations are using enhanced IPR as leverage to enforce their outsourcing of our jobs to China. That's not China's fault, that's Apple's, etc.

     

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


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