07 February 2011

Piracy/Counterfeit Bait and Switch

As I've noted before, one of the tricks used in the current ACTA negotiations is to blur the lines between counterfeiting and piracy, and to switch between the two whenever it suits the argument. So it's no surprise that a conference bringing together many intellectual monopoly maximalists, the grandly-titled "Global Congress Combating Counterfeiting and Piracy", used the same trick.

The emphasis is very much on the frightening "big numbers" of counterfeiting:

the problem of counterfeiting is growing, which is illustrated by a report on challenges facing the world in 2011, which was recently published by Robert Greenhill from the World Economic Forum. The report says that the illegal economy, corruption, and organized crime all work together to the detriment of society. It estimates the total value of counterfeits in the world to be $360 billion, including $200 billion in counterfeit medicines and $50 billion in counterfeit cigarettes. There is also $60 billion worth of pirated videos. This lessens the economic competitiveness of many countries.

Even if we accept what are probably inflated numbers, the last sentence is simply wrong. Countries where counterfeits are widely sold may damage themselves in the long term through fake medicines, but in the short term they keep more money in the local economy, which is likely to boost their competitiveness since it allows for greater economies of scale there.

Similarly, a speaker from Interpol talked about:

two specific operations taken in the past year to combat piracy and counterfeiting. Operation Jupiter 5 in South America involved 13 countries and led to over 7000 arrests and the seizure of over $200 million worth of counterfeit goods.


Gerhard Bauer, President of the International Trademark Association (ITA) noted that the size of the counterfeiting phenomena is so vast that it is hard to grasp, and that it leads to the ruination of many legitimate businesses. The ITA participated in a summit yesterday to discuss how different organizations can work together to build awareness of the program and to build support for ACTA.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with Internet piracy, and yet, as the mention of ACTA reminds us, it is precisely in this field that intellectual monopolists have been most active - and disproportionate in their demands.

The crucial role of ACTA was admitted during the conference:

ACTA is very important because it is more ambitious than any other previous agreement, including unique provisions on seizure and destruction of infringing goods; more criminal prosecutions; more possibilities for enforcement at the border. Especially significant, ACTA is the first treaty that specifically deals with the internet. He noted civil society concerns with ACTA, which he called “legitimate,” but which “must be allayed.” ACTA is compatible with the Doha Declaration, won’t interfere with trade of generic drugs, contains and contains no measures for intrusive searches of passengers. Civil society must be convinced of this.

Again, there is the confusion between counterfeiting - "seizure and destruction of infringing goods...enforcement at the border" - and the digital world, whose goods cannot be seized or destroyed, and for which borders are largely nominal.

Significantly, as the speaker seeks to address "civil society concerns with ACTA", he does not mention the fact that ISPs will be forced to become agents of intellectual monopolists, or the knock-on loss of privacy that will result, or the chilling effect this will have on free speech. That's because he has no answer to these very serious criticisms of ACTA, which has been pushed through largely by exploiting the deliberate confusion between counterfeiting, with its undoubted analogue risks, and digital piracy, which has none.

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PV said...

You've got it right on the money. But my question is, with all the action on "piracy" (to be distinguished from actual and harmful piracy), what exactly has been done to combat real counterfeiting, which often is dangerous?
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Glyn Moody said...

@PV: fair question. I think the answer lies in the removing the confusion that is being sowed here. In other words, get rid of all references to digital piracy in ACTA and elsewhere, and concentrate on the physical counterfeits using traditional policing and customs activities.