from keep-it-together,-ustr department
As part of the USTR’s annual joke known as the 301 Special Report (which is so ridiculous that even top US Copyright Office officials mock the USTR for it), the USTR publishes what he calls his “list of notorious markets”. The Special 301 Report, if you don’t know, is the report in which major corporations complain to the USTR about countries they believe are not sufficiently respecting US intellectual property rights. The USTR collects all these groans and rewrites them in the form of a report to send to American diplomats to try to shame countries into “clamping down” on behavior these companies don’t like – whether compliant or not. to American standards. or local intellectual property laws. A few years ago, the USTR published a separate list of online websites, which it referred to as “notorious marketplaces.” He started doing this in 2011, in a process that has been destined to support SOPA (because SOPA supporters wanted the list of “rogue” sites that would be banned under SOPA).
The USTR itself admits that there is basically no objective or legal justification behind its process:
The list does not purport to reflect findings of violations of law, nor does it reflect the US government’s analysis of general IPR protection and enforcement climate in the country concerned.
The latest Notorious Markets list is out (technically, it’s the “Notorious Markets 2014 Off-Cycle Review”) and it’s full of the usual misleading bullshit. It is quite amazing to see representatives of the American government celebrate censorship of online forums and websites, calling it “progress”. Free speech isn’t particularly important to the USTR when the MPAA complains about it, apparently.
But the really amazing movement in this latest report is by the USTR to begin to include domain registrars as “notorious marketplaces”, including one of the world’s most popular and widely used registrars, Tucows:
This year, the USTR sheds light on the problem of certain domain name registrars. Registrars are the commercial entities or organizations that manage the registration of Internet domain names, and some of them are said to play a role in supporting online counterfeiting and piracy.
And here is the entry against Tucows:
Tucows.com: Based in Canada, would Tucows be an example of a registrar that doesn’t take action when informed about its customers? infringing activity. Consistent with the discussion above, the USTR encourages Tucows operators to work with relevant stakeholders to address complaints.
Unsurprisingly, the USTR insists on FUD saying they feel the need to do so to protect you from the dangerous counterfeit drugs that are offered on these sites, and those evil domain registrars who refuse to shut down an entire business because someone complained:
Several respondents to the 2014 Federal Registry Request identified registrars that allegedly facilitate the distribution of unauthorized copyrighted content. One respondent identified several registrars that have apparently refused requests to lock or suspend domain names used to sell suspected counterfeit pharmaceuticals to consumers around the world. This conduct also presents a public health challenge and requires a coordinated response from governments and various private sector actors.
According to a report, approximately 96% of online pharmacies targeting US consumers operate in violation of applicable US laws and standards. An estimated 50% of websites worldwide that hide their physical address sell illicit pharmaceuticals, including those labeled with counterfeit brands. The www.LegitScript.com website reviewed over 40,000 online drug sellers, but found less than 400 to be legitimate. Studies have shown that anti-cancer, anti-HIV/AIDS and other counterfeit drugs are not only ineffective, but may in some cases contain toxic or deadly adulterants, such as rat poison.
As you may recall, scare stories about “counterfeit drugs” and confusion with copyright infringement are standard operating procedure for those pushing for stricter copyright enforcement. It’s because they can’t show any real damage caused by copyright infringement, then they talk about drugs. But what they miss is the fact that counterfeit drugs are actually a very, very small problem. Cases of “toxic or fatal adulterants” are extremely rare. Even when it comes to unlicensed pharmacies, studies have shown that they tend to deliver legitimate products (it’s not good business to kill your customer base, after all).
As for the whole claim that “only 400 out of 40,000 online drug sellers are legit” – well, consider the source. LegitScript is notorious for frequently confusing dubious online pharmacies with perfectly reasonable licensed Canadian pharmacies that simply “re-import” legitimate versions of drugs at far lower costs than US pharmacies. LegitScript has regularly been used to try to shut down or tar Canadian pharmacies that offer much cheaper access to drugs. President Obama in the past has spoken in to favor to allow more “reimporting”, but then backtracked on that campaign promise, once US drug companies got angry. Even Senator Patrick Leahy, the author of PIPA (the related SOPA bill in the Senate) has been a big proponent of re-importing drugs from Canada.
And yet, the USTR implies that the mere act of re-importing drugs amounts to someone selling rat poison pretending it is something else. Big pharma has been pushing hard lately to force ISPs to completely take down websites if they sell drugs that weren’t originally intended for the US, even if there’s no prescription. court or other adversarial process. They just want to complain and have the sites taken down. It seems that Tucows, reasonably enough, finds this somewhat excessive…and in response, the USTR calls it a “notorious market”.
To say the least, it’s completely insane.
Note that this is the same USTR that is currently negotiating the TPP and TTIP agreements, which it says will help promote a free and open Internet. However, at at the same timehe walks around and calls domain registrars “rogue markets” because they won’t arbitrarily take down entire websites, because a pharmaceutical company complains that they don’t want competition, and some movie studios are pissed that a website links to a infringing content (regardless of what else may be on this site, or who is actually responsible for it).
It is hard to see how the USTR can claim to be in favor of an open and free internet, and the free flow of information (as it claims), while at the same time it is arguing that the offices of domain registrar themselves should not only be held liable for any infringement, but rather that they should censor entire sites just because the users of certain sites whose domains have been registered through this registrar, have violated. Next thing you know, the USTR will require asphalt manufacturers to be held accountable for not stopping cars that have counterfeit tires from running.
The USTR has long been something of a joke, but recently it’s been trying to portray itself as really “getting” the internet after years of not having it. By labeling Tucows a “notorious market,” however, the USTR has only shown how utterly ignorant it remains and raises very serious questions on his guidance and knowledge as he negotiates major trade deals.
Filed Under: domain registrars, notorious marketplaces, ustr