During the nearly dozen years that I worked at the U.S Copyright Office, I had the opportunity to visit countries all over the world and discuss with them the positive role of intellectual property in promoting creativity, innovation, and economic growth.
While on these visits, which were usually to the places with the weakest laws and enforcement, I would visit shopping malls and other stores and see row after row after row of knock-off purses and clothes, numerous opportunities for illegal copies of music and movies, and even fake medicine. Sometimes is was comical, like the copy of Star Wars with the description, “Boy fight evil dark death father man.” And the people with whom I was traveling would be quick to note how this is stealing jobs back in the U.S. But I also thought about what it means to the people who live there to have literally no choice except unreliable, dangerous fakes when they go shopping for their family. Imagine if every time you went to the store, every morning when your kids got up for school, you had to wonder if the everyday products from toasters to toothpaste, allergy medicine to active wear would fall apart or even contain harmful substances. Every day.
On other occasions I would travel to meetings of the World Intellectual Property Organization or the World Trade Organization, both in Geneva, Switzerland. I was shocked the first time I went to hear the representatives of the same countries with such huge problems take the floor and decry intellectual property as inhibiting development. How could they be so out of touch with the reality in their own countries? These are places where the law is substandard and law enforcement ineffective – how in the world could they pretend that IP was stopping them when they had no effective IP? And didn’t they realize that the lack of opportunity to reap the benefits from innovation was exactly what was driving the most creative minds out of their countries? To my dismay, I would learn that it was ivory tower academics and like-minded allies in the U.S. who were writing in support of this backwards approach. Meanwhile, the conditions in too many developing countries stagnate.
That is why I am so excited that today the Property Rights Alliance released an open letter in support of the critical role of intellectual property in supporting creativity and economic growth, as well as key ingredients to any free society like respect for all property rights and rule of law. The letter is signed by people and organizations from 51 countries on all six inhabited continents, from large countries, small countries, rich countries, and developing countries. They all get it.
I hope that the decision makers in national capitols around the world take the time to read this letter. And I hope they send the message to their representatives in Geneva. Property respect for intellectual property is one piece of the puzzle to a better world, for everyone.
I first met Mr. Sivakant Tiwari in 2001. It was my first trip to east Asia and I had been assigned by the U.S. Copyright Office as a negotiator of the intellectual property (“IP”) chapter of the Singapore-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA). Singapore had some serious domestic IP enforcement challenges back then.
He was already a highly accomplished negotiator, and it was my first time representing the United States abroad. It didn’t take long for me to realize that with Mr. Tiwari on the other side of the table, I was in the big leagues.
There were times when he ran circles around me, but I learned a lot from him about negotiating, and over the course of the following couple of years I came to respect him quite a bit. Aside from his skill as a negotiator, what I appreciated was his knowledge of the law and even more, what I believe was his genuine desire to reach agreement in support of free trade and intellectual property protection. While we each had certain specific issues our governments needed to address, I felt we connected on the basic understanding that free trade, rule of law, and modern intellectual property protection would benefit both our countries. So it was with great satisfaction that I saw the FTA concluded and Singapore improve its intellectual property protection, and bolster its standing as a global economic and business leader.
In the years since then, I have had the opportunity to travel all around east Asia and all over the world, and I negotiated other agreements in Australia, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America. I even had some additional opportunities to work with Mr. Tiwari. His skill, knowledge, and commitment always stood out in my mind.
So, I was greatly saddened four years ago to learn of Mr. Tiwari’s untimely death from a brain hemorrhage. The world of intellectual property is poorer for his absence.
Among Mr. Tiwari’s extensive legacy is that Singapore maintains the intellectual property protections negotiated as part of the FTA. And I have no doubt that is why domestic-based piracy in Singapore remains very low in a region with extensive problems with intellectual property protection and enforcement.
But in this age of interconnectedness, piracy can no longer be looked at by reference to national boundaries. Piracy is a global problem. For example, according to a report by the investigative firm, MarkMonitor, Singapore has the most incidents of piracy per capita of any of the 15 Asian countries studied. And industry revenues from the Singapore market today are a fraction of what they were when we negotiated the FTA. Few if any of the major piracy sites are Singapore-based, but foreign sites are driving piracy. The notorious scofflaw, Pirate Bay, is the #51 most visited site by Singaporeans.
I would never presume to try to speak for him, but I do believe Mr. Tiwari would be disappointed by that current reality. It hurts Singaporean creators and consumers alike, depriving them of a market for domestic culture and tainting Singapore’s hard-earned reputation abroad.
My experience with Singapore has taught me that its people and its government will not tolerate this and I hope I am right. It would be a further honor to Mr. Tiwari’s memory and the goals he worked so hard towards.
A few months ago, a friend drew my attention to an article in Foreign Affairs in which the authors argued that IP theft in China is promoting economic growth and innovation, and that the United States had done the same thing. I have heard this type of apologist argument many times before and I decided, with the prodding and assistance of friends, to write a response. To my great surprise and appreciation, the editors at Foreign Affairs selected my response for publication. They edited it down and gave the authors of the original piece the opportunity to have the last word, but I am grateful that I had the opportunity to air my views as well.
The response is now online, but is available in its entirety only to subscribers of Foreign Affairs (as is their right): http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139990/steven-tepp-kal-raustiala-and-christopher-sprigman/how-to-copy-right
By our agreement, I am also authorized to post my response here, which I do (including the rebuttal of the authors of the original piece) here: How to Copy Right
I hope you find it worth your time. My special thanks to Gina and Brian for your prodding, support, and guidance.