May 17, 2012

Hello Athens, drop everything you are doing

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On April 30th, the United States published its 2012 Special 301 Report (pdf). Among other things, the report targets poor countries for not spending enough on the enforcement of intellectual property rights – including EU member states Romania and Greece. There are excellent overviews of the Special 301 report, see for instance Knowledge Ecology International and Michael Geist. Below I will link the Special 301 report with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA.

The Special 301 report shows that at least one ACTA safeguard is worth nothing. Furthermore, Germany advises developing countries against signing ACTA. Germany should also advise Eastern European countries not to sign ACTA. And the Commission should tell the US not to interfere with the Union’s internal politics. The Special 301 report highlights that from an access to knowledge point of view, ACTA is unacceptable, for Europe as well.

First, Michael Geist on the mention of Guatemala in the Special 301 report: “Note that the USTR is not criticizing Guatemala’s laws nor enforcement efforts as the government has complied with repeated U.S. demands to shift resources toward IP enforcement. Indeed, there is no obvious reason for inclusion on the Special 301 list other than an attempt to lobby a country that ranks 123rd worldwide in per capita GDP to spend even more money enforcing US intellectual property rights rather than on education, health care or infrastructure, the sorts of expenditures that might improve the country’s overall economy and ultimately lead to reduced rates of infringement.”

There is indeed a lot of media piracy in developing countries. For emerging economies, the Media Piracy in Emerging Economies report shows the underlaying dynamics: “Media piracy has been called ‘a global scourge,’ ‘an international plague,’ and ‘nirvana for criminals,’ but it is probably better described as a global pricing problem. High prices for media goods, low incomes, and cheap digital technologies are the main ingredients of global media piracy. If piracy is ubiquitous in most parts of the world, it is because these conditions are ubiquitous. Relative to local incomes in Brazil, Russia, or South Africa, the price of a CD, DVD, or copy of Microsoft Office is five to ten times higher than in the United States or Europe.”

In emerging economies, some 90% of the people do not have access to affordable legal CDs and DVDs. Their only solution is to buy illegal copies. Under these circumstances, stronger enforcement will not work. An approach that does not solve global pricing problems, but only heightens enforcement, will not solve global media piracy and counterfeiting problems, but will only increase social costs.

With regards to scientific knowledge, even the library of Harvard University, one of the richest universities in the world, complains scientific journals are too expensive.

Geist also notes EU country Romania (77th per capita GDP) is on the list as well. The 301 report:

“Romania remains on the Watch List in 2012. U.S. industry reports positive cooperation with Romanian enforcement officials and among enforcement agencies, evidenced by the taking down of 164 infringing websites. Romania should, however, ensure that authorities have the proper resources and training to address the country’s high rates of piracy and counterfeiting effectively. The United States urges Romania to prioritize IPR protection and enforcement. Piracy over the Internet remains a serious concern, and more enforcement efforts are needed to address the problem. Judicial delays and a lack of deterrent-level sentencing also remain a problem. The United States looks forward to continuing to work with Romania to address these and other issues.”

As an EU country, Romania implemented the Union’s strict legislation on IP rights and enforcement. Such strict laws are counterproductive in a country where almost the entire population does not have enough money to buy the legal products. Romania needs exceptions to strict enforcement rules. Romania is also an ACTA party, ACTA will make it impossible to soften EU law for Romania.

Article 2.2 ACTA says: “Nothing in this Agreement creates any obligation with respect to the distribution of resources as between enforcement of intellectual property rights and enforcement of law in general.” This ACTA safeguard is worth nothing. Before and after the TRIPS agreement, before and after ACTA, the US has pressured and will pressure countries anyhow. With ACTA, the US will only have more possibilities to pressure Romania.

Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development advises developing countries against signing ACTA. Interestingly, two ACTA parties are developing countries: Mexico (65th GDP per capita) and Morocco (121st). After years of negotiations, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development now advises them not to sign ACTA.

Romania, 77th per capita GDP, is just above Brazil (80th) and South Africa (83rd) on the GDP per capita list, but below Russia (56th). Bulgaria (72nd), Latvia (63rd), Lithuania (53rd), Poland (50th) and Estonia (49th) hardly do better. After many years of negotiations, Germany implicitly advises them not to sign ACTA. Germany should explicitly advise Eastern European countries not to sign ACTA.

According to the Treaty on European Union, the Union shall aim at social progress, scientific and technological advance, combat social exclusion and shall promote social justice.

But how is that possible if people can’t afford to buy the legal products, and even access to medicine is threatened? Europe does not only face financial austerity, but also information austerity.

The Commission, guardian of the Treaties, should advise Eastern European countries against signing ACTA, and should tell the US not to interfere with the Union’s internal politics.

EU member states Italy and Greece are higher on the GDP per capita list (33rd and 37th), but both are struggling with austerity and especially Greece experiences severe problems. Both are on the 2012 Special 301 Watch list.

Hello Athens, drop everything you are doing, the 2012 Special 301 report is out.

Spain (32nd GDP per capita) showed remarkable progress after it joined the EU, but the Euro turns out to be a wild horse to ride. Spain’s unemployment rate is at 24.1%, the youth unemployment rate is at 51.1%. A significant part of Spain’s population has limited excess to legal intellectual property rights protected products.

From an access to knowledge point of view, ACTA is unacceptable, not just for developing countries and emerging economies, but for Europe as well.