from the oh-really-now? dept
For many years now we’ve had fun pointing out the ridiculous claims of the legacy copyright industry execs insisting that copyright infringement funds terrorism. Of course, the evidence for this was seriously lacking. Back in 2011 there was an incredibly detailed, evidence-rich debunking of the claim by Joe Karaganis, showing basically no connection between terrorism and infringement.
But, alas, it’s a topic that never seems to go away. And now it appears that a design patent lawyer has updated the talking points to now claim that terrorists are infringing on design patents to fund their terroristic activity. First, as a quick refresher: when we talk about patents, we’re usually talking about utility patents, which are a monopoly for a new invention or process. Design patents, on the other hand, are really more akin to trademarks, in that they grant a monopoly on the look of something. The idea that ISIS is out there infringing on, say, the look of someone’s fancy belt buckle or a new planter is just sort of ludicrous on its face. But it certainly didn’t stop big shot patent lawyer Robert Katz from making the claim at a recent event held by the US Patent and Trademark Office (who, really, should know better).
The event was the USPTO’s “Design Day” held a few weeks ago, in which there were a series of discussions on design patents and such. If you go to the Livestream of the event, about an hour in Katz starts out by playing up how crafty infringers are getting, saying that they’re getting smarter about how they avoid getting caught:
This is followed up by the other favorite concept that the copyright folks loved to use for years: totally and completely bogus numbers about losses of money and jobs. Notice, first that the “losses” in money lumps in all kinds of infringement, and almost certainly counts every infringement as a lost sale, even though that’s clearly not the case. And job loss reports like this have been debunked so many times that it’s almost embarrassing that anyone still uses those claims.
Katz goes one better in talking about how “dangerous” products were introduced into the market, he gets to claim that knockoff makeup products were causing people to break out in rashes because they had “feces” in them. Indeed, there was just a seizure by the LAPD of some supposedly counterfeit makeup products, and the whole “feces” claim made a bunch of headlines (though, it’s odd that half the stories call it “animal waste” and the other half call it “human feces.”) There don’t seem to be many details beyond a tweet from the LAPD — an organization never known for exaggerating anything or making statements that are inaccurate.
He also claims that sex traffickers are using infringement to fund their efforts (I thought they were using the trafficking to fund it, but… who knows?) But that’s just the lead in to the really nutty claim. It all comes back to… TERRORISM!
If you can’t see that, the slide notes that infringers are “tied to terrorism” and he provides three “real life examples.” From the slide:
- Charlie Hebdo shootings: There’s a direct link between counterfeits and terrorism… “The sale of counterfeit goods went into buying these guns.”
- 2004 Madrid train bombings: Terrorists sold counterfeit CDs to support their activities.
- 1993 World Trade Center bombing: Terrorists raising money by selling counterfeit goods.
Let’s leave aside that if this is such a big deal, why do we need to go back a quarter of a century to find three examples (and almost 15 years just to find a second example). Even the supposedly recent claim of the Charlie Hebdo attacks being a “direct” result of counterfeit sales is pretty suspect. You can find lots of headlines claiming this, but when you dig deep into the examples, no one provides any evidence. It’s often cited by a trade group advocating for cracking down on counterfeits. After reading through many, many reports, the earliest reporting I can find on the claims about the Charlie Hebdo attackers relying on counterfeits comes from the LA Times story about intelligence lapses that allowed the attackers to go unnoticed. It mentions, in passing, that after getting out of jail for an earlier run-in with the law over possible terrorism, one of the attackers “seemed to be moving into less sinister pursuits, reportedly including trafficking in counterfeit clothing and shoes.”
That report also suggests that this counterfeiting activity had basically nothing to do with buying the weapons for the Charlie Hebdo attack. Instead, you get:
U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed that at least one of the brothers traveled to Yemen in summer 2011, received training from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and returned with about $20,000 in cash provided by the terrorist group. News reports have indicated that both brothers may have ventured to Yemen.
Right. So, which is it. One of the attackers selling some counterfeit shoes… or getting trained by Al Qaeda and being handed $20,000. I think the latter seems just a bit more likely.
But not to design patent lawyers like Katz. He concludes this slide by saying with a totally straight face:
“It’s not like it’s something where people just got a little too close. Most of the time, when people are using design patents, it’s to stop activities like this.”
Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? Most of the time that people are using design patents, it’s to stop terrorist attacks like this? What the hell is Katz saying?
No one is saying that counterfeiting of whatever things that are covered by design patents is okay — though reports by both the GAO and the OECD have shown that claims of losses due to counterfeiting are highly exaggerated, and that in many cases there’s little to no real harm, as buyers know they’re buying counterfeit products, and it’s an aspirational purchase (i.e., they can’t afford the authentic version). Other reports have shown that those who buy counterfeits often by the real version when they can afford it.
But, nope. According to Katz, “most of the time” design patents need to be used to stop terrorists such as those involved in the Charlie Hebdo shootings (never mind the cash from Al Qaeda).
I don’t know if people like Katz think the points he’s spewing are accurate. He might. But if that’s true, it just goes to show how silly confirmation bias can become. Design patents aren’t protecting anyone against terrorism, let alone “most of the time.” Saying things like that don’t show how important design patents are. They show how silly people get when they get all wrapped up in artificial monopolies.