Numerous Wikileaks cables have highlighted the pressure that the US has brought to bear on several foreign governments behind closed doors in an attempt to get the latter to pass maximalist copyright laws. But it's worth noting that plenty of arm twisting takes place openly. Here, for example, is a letter (pdf) from the American Chamber of Commerce in Estonia addressed to the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications of that country:
We find that the level of intellectual property protection in Estonia needs to be improved, both on the legislative and practical fronts. Estonian government should also focus more on investigating the commercial IPR infringements committed through the Internet, and not only breaches of law in relation with cyber terrorism. In addition, the government must follow the EU and national level debates that might have an impact on IPR legislative framework.
In other words, Estonia really ought fall into line like the other countries. Because if it doesn't:
Insufficient IPR protection has a negative effect on the entire economic situation in Estonia. As long as the IPR holders cannot be sure that their rights are protected, the international groups are hesitant in having their R&D units in Estonia and it is likely that R&D projects are run in countries with more comprehensive IPR protection. Insufficient IPR protection can also be an obstacle for starting new production units in Estonia as the IPR holders feel that the risk of IPR infringement is too high in Estonia and therefore it is better to produce their products in countries where the IPR-s are better protected.
Although the letter touches on trademarks and other areas, its central concern is copyright infringement, especially on the Internet. Its list of demands -- sorry, suggestions -- is depressingly familiar: stronger protection; more criminal prosecutions; intermediary liability for ISPs and website owners; and an "effective mechanism of damage compensation, without having to go through lengthy, complicated or costly procedures for achieving redress through the courts."
However, as an excellent post on the Estonian Public Broadcasting site explains, the letter's underlying assumptions about lack of enforcement are simply wrong:
They claim, for instance, that there is poor intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement in Estonia. However, Estonia’s IPR laws and enforcement, at least in the commercial space, are quite adequate. Operations, including websites, that exist for commercial exploitation of unlicensed rights, are already illegal and get shut down. The operators can be imprisoned for up to three years.
The article goes on to point out one of the likely casualties of any harsher approach to copyright enforcement in Estonia:
if suing for non-commercial infringement is allowed, sooner or later, the pubs, restaurants and hotels offering free WiFi will be receiving legal threats and fines because someone downloaded something via their connection. It will be simpler for businesses to close their free internet access points, rather than face the legal harassment and risk of huge crippling fines that could result from one of their clients downloading something illegally.
That's an important point: copyright legislation does not exist in isolation, but can have serious knock-on effects on the digital life of a country -- in this case, jeopardizing Estonia's place in the vanguard of open wireless Internet coverage. Let's hope the Estonian ministers bear that in mind when their visitors from the US Embassy come calling.
When that happens, the Open Internet, an item of national pride in Estonia, will effectively be dead.
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