Category Archives: Intellectual Property

After Marathon Negotiations, TPP Agreement is a Reality

If it seems like you’ve been hearing TPP this and Asia trade deal that every few months for years now, you wouldn’t be wrong.

A summit with leaders of the member states of ...

A summit with leaders of the member states of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) — (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations have been ongoing for some five years now, but the agreement was confirmed by all 12 participants today, marking the largest trade deal ever signed. It now awaits ratification by governments in each country, which include Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Taken together, the countries involved make up forty percent of global trade and a combined population of some 800 million people.

Viewed through those numbers – and understanding that the agreement covers everything from the agriculture and automotive sectors to pharmaceuticals and entertainment. The last two in particular have perhaps unexpectedly overlapping interests, with intellectual property rights at the forefront of negotiations for drug patents and movie copyright.

With such a vast marketplace in play and the potential to synchronize creative rights across some key countries, it’s no surprise that the agreement’s announcement is welcome news for North America’s creative sector.

Echoing the sentiments of movie makers around the country, MPAA Chairman and CEO, Senator Chris Dodd, had this to say about the agreement:

“Enacting a high-standard TPP is an economic priority for the American motion picture and television industry, which registered nearly $16 billion in exports in 2013 and supports nearly two million jobs throughout all fifty states. We look forward to reviewing the agreement’s final text.”

The proposed agreement creates a robust environment in which to ensure creativity is protected, and brings profits only to those who work hard to bring us the kind of movies and television productions that we enjoy every day. It sets a firm foundation for creators to sell and distribute their work, with less worry that international infringement will prevent them from taking the proceeds and channeling them into new productions.

Unsurprisingly, longstanding opponents of this landmark trade agreement are once again trotting out their familiar mix of hyperbole and confused hysteria. The myths are as many as those who believe the negotiating behind closed doors marks the TPP out as some kind of clandestine discussion, when in reality the final version will now face public and political scrutiny in every country that it will effect.

This is to say nothing of the many distributed earlier version that have already made the rounds after previous meetings between the participating nations, which have served to make the agreement a comprehensively reviewed document, even before it was anywhere near a reality.

As every media outlet explains, the TPP provisions will now face the full review that each respective member’s democratic process allows for. The negotiations were behind closed doors because they were just that, negotiations. If sufficient opposition exists in any participating nation, the agreement will not be ratified and will be forced to reconsider any sticking points.

If not, and if every government successfully explains to its citizens just how valuable the deal will be to their economic prosperity and protection of intellectual property, we will all witness an historic trade agreement that stands to secure and boost economies around the Pacific Rim for years to come.

Influential Coalition Calls for Global IP Protection

A coalition of 85 think tanks, advocacy groups, and organizations has written to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to push home just how vital copyright is for vibrant economies around the world. The collective spans 51 countries and represents a significant request to develop intellectual property respect on a global scale.

The group, headed up by the Property Rights Alliance, reaffirmed their support for strong IP laws in a letter to the Director General of WIPO, Dr. Francis Gurry (pictured below, right, with actor Javier Bardem).

 

The communication covers eight key areas that the collective organizations believe cut to the heart of copyright’s social and economic benefits. These are:

  • Rule of Law, Property, and a Transparent Political Environment are the Foundation of Fair and Prosperous Societies
  • Intellectual Property Rights are Affirmed in International Treaties as a Human Right
  • Intellectual Property Rights Promote Free Speech and Expression
  • Intellectual Property Rights are Integral to Consumer Protection and Global Security
  • Strong Intellectual Property Rights and Contractual Freedom Promote Free and Competitive Markets
  • Intellectual Property Rights are Vital to Economic Competitiveness
  • Intellectual Property Rights Must Be Protected Through Effective IP Provisions in Trade Agreements
  • Intellectual Property Rights Must Be Respected and Protected on the Internet

As a set of guiding principles and touchstones for a stronger society, this is a compelling list. It’s all too easy to limit our thinking around copyright and intellectual property to piracy of music and movies, but the reality is that IP lies at the heart of our culture.

This is because strong copyright law drives creativity.Local access, global network

Knowing that what we create is protected by law and, accordingly, that we can leverage it for economic gain if a market exists, develops an environment in which creative minds can flourish.

They understand not only that their work will be respected, but that it will be protected so that they can build a career upon it, rather than just dabble as a hobbyist.

The letter echoes this sentiment in its conclusion:

“Advanced societies have long understood that by protecting the proprietary rights of artists, authors, entrepreneurs, innovators and inventors, they were promoting the greater public welfare. “

Urging the maintenance and development of intellectual property safeguards for the next generation, the letter neatly sums up the challenge facing creators on a global scale. With such rapid advancement of technology as we have seen in the last few decades, protecting the core concepts of IP becomes more important than ever.

Doing so on a global scale is even more challenging, but equally offers enormous potential for developing and developed markets alike.

The World Intellectual Property Organization is uniquely placed to guide treaty discussion and policy on the international stage, and it can aid creative minds everywhere by heeding the guidance laid out in the coalition’s letter.

 

U.S. Creators Will Benefit From Strong International Copyright Agreements

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and associated trade agreements took a step closer to becoming a reality last week, as a bill was introduced to the U.S. Senate that establishes negotiating objectives for the President.

As previously reported, talks between national representatives have been ongoing for some time, as negotiators lay the foundations for one of the most significant trade pacts of our time, covering everything from regulatory and currency practices to intellectual property rights.

It is the latter, of course, that much of our coverage has focused on, and which also has been an important talking point across media reports concerning the TPP.

A statement from Copyright Alliance CEO Sandra Aistars underlines this importance, expressing support for the approach adopted by senators in this legislation. Aistars explains:

“To meaningfully take advantage of the expanding opportunities presented by both technology and trade, creators rely on strong enforcement of copyright protections consistent with U.S. law.”

 

English: A North American Free Trade Agreement...

English: A North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the wider sense, expansive trade agreements have long held benefits for U.S. business, despite attempts to derail them at the time of negotiation.

1994’s North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, was criticized for its potential to see trade value leak from the country and cause an expected decline in key industries. Today it is credited with boosting the trade of U.S. goods and services with Mexico and Canada considerably, rising from $337 billion in 1993 to $1.2 trillion in 2011.
Despite opposition attempts to portray the negotiations as cloak and dagger, the Transpacific talks have been conducted no differently than any other major trade deal; the talking points, which are evisently public, are set up to frame the talks, after which details are thrashed out in private, as it should be, until the participants have the basis for an agreement that they can take back and present to their national authorities.

In the U.S. that means any potential agreement passing through a rigorous and robust legislative process, which from recent experience we all know to be a stern test of bipartisan support. If any proposal that emerges can win such support from both sides of the aisle, it would seem fair to suggest that its potential to boost the American economy is suitably convincing. We elect our officials to do this job and should trust their judgment when it comes to international trade just as we must in almost every other legislative matter.

If these negotiations – and resulting agreements – can strengthen international copyright protections and boosts long term trade at the same time, U.S. creators will be all the better for it.

Varied Results for Organizations Who Want Off the World’s Notorious Markets List

Following on from the MPAA’s submission of international offenders who fail to respect American intellectual property to the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the office today released its annual list of “notorious markets,” designed to name and shame those included into cleaning up their act. As has become the norm, it provided relief for some, and throws down the gauntlet for others to up their efforts in the year ahead.

The idea is simple enough: flag organizations and online platforms who facilitate the unlicensed use of American intellectual property.

Seal of United States Trade Representative Exective OfficeBy putting these companies and sites on show for all to see, the USTR forces them to choose a path; either commit to improving the legality of their site by removing content and practices that infringe upon intellectual property rights, or confirm that they have no interest in respecting the law and expect the appropriate authorities to come calling.

Marking the importance of protecting those IP rights, the office’s Ambassador Michael Froman had this to say about the 2014 out-of-cycle report:

“American innovation fuels our economy.  Intellectual property protects the contributions and livelihoods of the 40 million Americans whose jobs are supported by intellectual property-intensive and associated industries. The theft we’re shining a light on today is detrimental not only to creators and inventors, but also to consumers.”

The report singled out entities like Spain’s seriesyonkis.com, China’s Xunlei, and software provider Aiseesoft for their positive progress on curbing infringing content on their respective platforms, since appearing on the list’s 2013 edition.

Providing these positive results is an important element to the report, placed prominently at the front as an example to those who find themselves on the notorious list further in. A prominent example held up by the press is Alibaba, whose subsidiary Taobao facilitated counterfeit operations around the time the Notorious Markets list came into existence. Since then Alibaba has made significant efforts to clean house and went on to make a record debut on the New York Stock Exchange last year.

On the other side of the coin, companies that didn’t make it off the offender’s list must redouble their efforts. The gap between expectation and reality can sometimes be wide, however, as demonstrated in the case of VKontakte. The Russian social network remains on the list despite appealing its presence after it took steps to curb pirated content sharing. But as we discussed in February, VKontakte has made only limited attempts to deal with this illegal activity, and it will evidently take much more for it to reach legitimacy in the eyes of U.S. rights holders.

In the end, legitimacy is exactly what the Notorious Markets list is all about. It recognizes that the copyright economy is worth more than $1 trillion to the United States and a major provider of jobs around the country, and presents those that undermine that value for all to see.

If an organization that appears on the list has no interest in becoming a legitimate business in the eyes of the law, they will of course continue on their path of piracy, in which case more substantial legal power needs to be wielded to remove that threat.

For those who value their business credibility, however, the USTR is simply showing some tough love. Clean up your act, prove your commitment to valuing intellectual property, and next year perhaps your company can be held us as a positive example to follow, rather than an offender to avoid.

Spain Pushes Google’s Buttons Over News Content

Europe has long held a healthy concern about the power wielded by search giant Google. With more than 80% market share and increasingly influential in all areas of technology, from desktop to mobile, browser to cloud computing, the company has found opposition mounting around the European Union in various guises.

Now it’s the turn of Spain, but the country’s government appears to have gone too far with its attempt to squeeze Google over its News product.

The so-called “Google tax,” which was passed last week, intends to collect revenue from online news providers who aggregate headlines from Spanish media outlets. It goes into effect on January 1st, 2015, but Google chose to act preemptively to avoid charges and earlier today shut down its news item content from Spanish content providers.

The law has been widely criticized by journalists, especially in the technology sector, for being over prescriptive and getting its just desserts with Google pulling the plug on a product that provides valuable traffic to the country’s publications. That criticism largely fails to delve into the nuance of intellectual property, however, and present the other side of the argument that publishers should have a right to dictate how and when their content is used.

In some cases the news that Google presents may in itself stand as a piece of content, in which case it benefits the search engine but not the publication whose headlines it has pulled. Spain’s law does go too far in the other direction though, making payments mandatory and giving publishers no option to decide that they want to give away these snippets in exchange for the traffic that a search engine can send them.

For its part Google’s reasoning that it makes no money on news, while accurate in fact, seems somewhat disingenuous. Although its News section makes no revenue from ads directly, it’s certainly a factor that attracts users who go on to search the company’s other listings, building its brand and generating revenue on ad clicks in those paid sections. In that sense at least, Google is playing off the content of others – in this case snippets of their reports – in order to bring in the eyeballs that swell its allure for advertisers.

More than anything else this case demonstrates just how fine a line content creators now walk, in terms of monetizing what they create directly versus giving elements of it away for free in order to play the long game. For news sites that means traffic to sell its adverts or subscriptions for more. As that traffic is likely to dip substantially without Google in the weeks and months to come, it’s understandable why Spanish publishers are quickly backtracking on this attempt to push Google’s buttons.

International Anticipation Grows as TPP Heads to DC

The next round of talks toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) take place in Washington DC early next month and the general feeling seems to be that negotiations are progressing very well.

In our last look at the TPP we focused mostly on copyright protection, but the potential of this agreement is even wider than that, as a number of insightful articles this week reveal.

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Image Credit: Wes Peck

Firstly, an article by the Copyright Alliance explains how agreements such as this set the stage for creative expression around the world.

Citing the example of a Mexican journalist who uses her position to expose injustice and illegal activity in her country, Sofia Castillo uncovers how co-operative efforts like those that the TPP will commit national governments to actually fgo further and protect free speech. Or to use Sofia’s more eloquent term, trade agreements have the power to be “engines of freedom of expression.”   

In another high profile area of guarding intellectual property, a Forbes piece lays out how major trade agreements that encompass copyright stand to “meaningfully improve our nation’s economic future,” and raises the issue of patent protection.

Often linked to lucrative new technology, patents are among the most valuable protective measures that creators can put in place to protect their ideas. With international enforcement, however, inventions are still ripe for theft and “patent trolling,” a practice widely reported in recent years that has a similar effect of draining legitimate creators of their rightful revenue.

Both of these creative arenas (and more) stand to benefit greatly from the international co-operation contained within the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

By protecting intellectual property and creative expression across international boundaries we in turn open up an encouraging, collaborative environment for our most talented artists and inventors to make the most of their gifts. In doing so, trade agreements like the TPP offer unique opportunities to bolster our artistic and economic futures in one fell swoop.

 

 

More Countries Pursue Anti-Piracy Education

The British government is coming under increased pressure to pursue a multi-pronged approach to copyright infringement. That’s the finding of MP Mike Weatherley, the man tasked by Prime Minister David Cameron with finding more effective ways to protect intellectual property (IP) in the United Kingdom.

Pulling no punches as to the importance of early education when it comes to copyright law and the need to both understand and respect creative rights, Weatherley states in his report that:

“The school curriculum needs to prepare pupils – from early years through to the end of secondary school and higher education – for the 21st century knowledge economy.”

If pursued by the country’s Prime Minister, the initiative would see new training for educational professionals on the legal side of IP, as well as a slew of resources like online tool kits and classroom materials to support the underlying message of any additions to the curriculum.

Education has become an increasingly important counterpoint to broader anti-piracy strategy. Where site shutdowns and political lobbying form the main drive of copyright activists, public education is the quieter follow up, a reminder that laws exist for a reason and legal alternatives to piracy are readily accessible.

The UK is just the latest country to pursue a deeper angle on piracy education. Following a concerning study showing that 7 in 10 people in Singapore engage in illegal downloading, the country moved quickly to explore not only blocking illegal sites, but rolling out information campaigns to steer new generations away from piracy. This was around the same time that the influential Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) backed an anti-piracy curriculum module called “Be a Creator,” aimed at promoting IP rights in the classroom and keeping children from the clutches of illegal activity here in the U.S.

Education is only one facet of the fight against piracy, but it’s ever-more important on a global scale. Countries around the world are quickly realizing that punishment is one thing, but when it comes to curbing illegal activity for a whole new generation, helping children to understand the value of copyright and the property of creators is something best achieved with early and subtle intervention.

 

Cartier IP Case Poses Questions for Global Enforcement

Parisian luxury accessories company Cartier is set to test the waters of international intellectual property (IP) enforcement, as it goes after counterfeit goods sold online.

While this all sounds fairly standard for a luxury brand with trademarks to protect, the focus of its litigation is not. Rather than the going after the end-sellers and the websites that host them, Cartier has asked a London court to force the Internet service providers in between to block the offending sites outright. If upheld, the brand’s actions could give the green light for other international names to pursue similar action, potentially flipping the burden of enforcement to the middlemen rather than the distributors.

Unsurprisingly that’s a big “if,” as there’s plenty of opposition to this approach, and not only from ISPs.

Free speech activists and civil rights groups will also have a part to play, as whenever there’s talk of shutting down a site, there follow the claims that reckless accusations will be made and legitimate services or speech shut down without “a fair trial.” On the other side of the argument, brands and other rightsholders point out that when their IP is being infringed upon, value is lost with each passing day and their infringement claims are based on a sound knowledge of who is licensed and who isn’t. All ISPs need do to avoid being placed in the spotlight themselves is comply with block orders promptly.

site blocked notice

This approach to cutting off counterfeiting via its online middle men closely resembles a tactic being weighed by countries around the world to fight content piracy.

The so-called “number of strikes” legislation adopted by the likes of France and Great Britain calls on ISPs to warn customers about infringement that goes on through the connection they pay for, with a final threat of being cut off if the accessing of illegitimate content doesn’t stop. The same complaints are heard against this method of IP enforcement, calling the approach heavy-handed and denying the right to be online to everyone on that connection, in much the same way that blocking a site for hosting counterfeit goods would punish users doing nothing wrong, as well as those buying unlicensed products.

The path ahead is unlikely to be as clear as “block all sites upon any infringement,” but it’s obvious that something has to be done to empower rightsholders to control the way their intellectual property is used.

Bootlegging, piracy and counterfeiting are age-old concerns that have been given a whole new lease of life by being able to access consumers online. The problem has gone global and legislation now needs to rise to the occasion, not only by the countries in which the IP is owned but across international boundaries. There should be no safe haven for criminals intent on living off the creativity of others, and those who facilitate the connection to criminal activity must play some part, even if that doesn’t mean bearing the brunt of enforcement activities.