Global Consumer Network Releases IP Watchlist for 2012

While some might be familiar with the USTR Special 301 report, fewer people may be familiar with the IP Watchlist. The IP Watchlists discusses technology, copyright, law and policy from the perspective other than strictly from a legacy corporate standpoint. We take a look at this years report.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The report is available for free download on the Consumer Network website. It details a number of countries and how consumer friendly those countries really are.

You don’t even have to have downloaded the report to know what really caught the Consumer Network’s eye. Even though rankings apparently changed very little, a lot has happened on the copyright landscape. “But look a little deeper,” the Consumer Network website says, “and there were some very significant developments that are likely to have deep and ongoing repercussions on IP regimes around the world. IP is now a political issue like never before, with mass protests against over-broad anti-piracy laws such as SOPA/PIPA and ACTA reverberating through the corridors of power. Policy-makers have received the message that we won’t allow big business to write the IP laws that consumers have to live by.”

Indeed, SOPA was perhaps one of the most significant developments all year, if not, ever. Not only was SOPA and PIPA a major threat to consumer rights, but it also threatened the very infrastructure of the Internet. Had those pieces of legislation passed in the US, it would have caused major chaos throughout the internet. From mass numbers of websites, legitimate or otherwise getting shutdown due to fears of repercussions of saying the wrong thing to an untold number of websites either getting blocked by ISPs to websites abroad possibly blocking US users over fears of the long potential reach of US authorities. No surprise, then, that it sparked an unprecedented protest where hundreds of thousands of websites took down their websites as part of a worldwide blackout that informed and mobilized the internet community to stop the legislation. I won’t sugarcoat it, if there was ever a piece of copyright legislation that made me defecate my pants over the thought of it passing, it would be, hands down, SOPA and PIPA.

The introduction further adds the following:

Both ACTA and SOPA were negotiated in secret and raised wider issues about how large copyright owning corporations drive copyright policy while the interest of consumers and creators are ignored.

Such discontent could have been avoided if only government policy-makers and big business had paid more attention to the legitimate needs of consumers for access to knowledge. A global survey of national IP laws and enforcement practices, rating them according to how well they promote consumers’ interests, could be an invaluable tool for such policy-makers. Thankfully, such a survey exists, and you are reading it now.

So, it isn’t just SOPA that caught all of the attention, but also ACTA. ACTA is, in and of itself, a whole pile of problems including the fact that it would bring forth a sort of global DMCA which includes anti-circumvention provisions. Anti-circumvention provisions in the law has caused significant headaches for innovators across the US. One specific (and somewhat famous) example is the Kaleidoscope where the company tried to create the DVD jukebox. Thanks partly due to anti-circumvention laws and partly due to legacy corporations refusing to embrace change, the product has been legally stonewalled for years. While some would argue most consumers would have never been able to buy this product in the first place, it also offers a great example where innovation is repressed thanks partly to anti-circumvention laws. This is the type of thing ACTA would push on to the rest of the world.

How Well Various Countries Scored

The report ranked 30 countries from around the world. Two countries that occasionally grace ZeroPaid’s news section made the top five. New Zealand moved up five places to take the fifth best country for consumer rights while the United States slipped two places to settle into the 5th best country in the world for consumer rights. The five worst countries included the United Kingdom which was the third worst country while Brazil fell four places to claim the title of worst country in the rankings.

The countries covered in this also received a school style report card as well.

The United States got an overall B-. The country scored high in freedom to access and use by disabled users and freedom to access and use in public affairs. The country lost marks in the categories of scope and duration of copyright (C), and administration and enforcement (D).

The United Kingdom earned a C- overall. While the country did earn an A for freedom to access and use by disabled users, it received a D for scope and duration of copyright, an F for Administration and enforcement, and another F for freedom to access and use by home users.

Canada earned a B- overall. The country scored top marks in freedom to access and use by public libraries and by disabled users. Marks were lost on scope and duration of copyright (D), freedom to share and transfer (D) and freedom to access and use in public affairs (F).

Australia also earned a B- overall. The country scored its only A in freedom to access and use online. The country also scored a lot of B’s in categories like freedom to access and use by for education, by the press and by home users. The country lost marks in the categories of scope and duration of copyright (D), freedom to share and transfer (D), and freedom to access and use in public affairs (F).

Additionally, New Zealand was another country that scored a B- overall. The country scored its only A in freedom to access and use by disabled users. The country also earned a number of B’s including in the categories of freedom to access and use by the press and scope and duration of copyright. The country also earned a number of C’s in categories like freedom to access and share and freedom to access and use by home users and online.

The reports webpage also features an in-depth analysis of each of the thirty countries. Here’s a few quick links:

United States of America
United Kingdom
New Zealand

Overall, I’d say it’s an interesting attempt to put a different spin on the world of copyright. My question is why is the United States is marked higher than Canada in scope and duration of copyright when the United States has anti-circumvention laws as well as a longer duration whereas Canada doesn’t necessarily have anti-circumvention laws and a shorter duration of copyright? I’m personally of the opinion that the longer the duration of copyright is, the worse a country is. I don’t really see the point of copyright lasting more than twenty years myself. For example, in the world of music (which is where my creative expertise comes in to play) you could produce a song, post it online, and have people buy and/or download it. Give it about a year for the popularity cycle to be complete. Offer the song up for remix to give that song a second boost in popularity for a second year. Then, you could allow the longtail effect to take place for the remaining eight years. Factor in another ten years at most for anything that hasn’t been accounted for just for insurance. Then, once twenty years is up, release it into the public domain so that new and upcoming artists can find new ways of re-appropriating the ideas put forth in those songs. By that time, the artist would have moved on to other projects long ago. I look back on stuff I produced back in 2005 and think that, sure I know that these are my humble beginning, but at the same time, I’ve grown a lot as an artist since then. I can’t see myself being desperate in keeping my rights over those songs even ten years from now as I probably would have produced something else by then.

The only people I could see legitimately being against this idea fall in to two categories. The first category would be artists who never really made the works that were made under their name. Instead, they hired a producer to create the music, either hired a poet or bought in to an agreement to use an existing poem for the lyrics and merely provided an image and vocal talents for the band to the table. At that point, they would lack the creative talent to push any further with the existing work and are only capable of sitting on a set number of works and hoping the copyright never expires for their income. At that point, were they really ever true artists or were they simply manufactured artists in the first place? At that point, those involved in the band should just seek out creative people and lend support to the creative process rather than sitting on old copyrighted works.

The other category of people I can see wanting longer copyright terms are really record labels – or more specifically major record labels. In the scenario I can see is that there was a specific deal set between the artist in question and the record label which would allow a very tiny trickle of profits (if at all) and royalties to the artists estate should the artist pass on. At that point, the label simply sits on the works until the artist passes on, then promotes the music like crazy because the profit margins are much greater. Playing the “in memory of…” card wouldn’t hurt the label in question either.

Either way I see it, most people legitimately wanting longer copyright terms tend to be those who leech off of creativity rather than contributing to it. If you’re a creative individual, you’d be making something new throughout your career rather than worrying about whether or not something you made 10 or 20 years ago is going to fall in to the public domain. Keep in mind that just because a work of yours fell in to the public domain doesn’t mean you can’t keep selling that work in the first place.

In my opinion, the report isn’t perfect, but it is an interesting start to try and promote something more legitimate than the USTR Special 301 report.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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