San Francisco – Overly broad intellectual property (IP) laws in Russia, Colombia, and Pakistan—which U.S. trade regulators say aren’t tough enough—stifle access to innovation and threaten artists, students, and creators around the globe with prison, censorship, and state prosecution, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said in a new report released today.

EFF’s “Special 404 Report” is a response to the “Special 301 Report”—a deeply flawed annual assessment of international intellectual property rights policies released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) today. The Special 301 Report is used to pressure countries to adopt IP laws supported by some powerful business interests.

In a first-of-its-kind analysis countering the USTR’s “name and shame” tactics, EFF demonstrates how the Special 301 Report paints a one-sided picture of IP rights and fails to disclose the damaging results of draconian IP policies. Examples include a human rights activist in Russia who was targeted by prosecutors using criminal copyright law, a biologist in Colombia who faces prison for sharing research, and students in Pakistan who struggle to exercise their rights under local law to study academic papers.

“The Special 301 Report is built on an opaque process that echoes the desires of certain members of private industry, like Hollywood rights holders,” said Jeremy Malcolm, EFF senior global policy analyst. “It’s meant to push countries to adopt stiffer IP laws, even if such laws aren’t in the best interests of the citizens of that country. Our report shows how, in countries targeted by the USTR report, stringent intellectual property laws have had shameful and frightening consequences.’’

EFF’s 404 report—named after the error code that appears on the web to show browsers that something is missing—features case studies from Canada, Chile, Pakistan, Romania, Colombia, and Russia. In addition to showing the chilling effects of copyright policies that the Special 301 Report condemns as not tough enough, the 404 report also highlights how flexible fair use interpretations can benefit communities, culture, and the economy. Additionally, EFF covers flaws in the USTR report, including lack of balance, questionable legal basis, lack of set criteria for analyzing copyright policies, and exclusion of a means by which countries can challenge findings.

“Our report puts a human face on the victims of defective IP policy, and tells the story of Diego Gomez, a masters student in Colombia who could be jailed and face huge fines after the government criminally prosecuted him for sharing an academic paper on Scribd,’’ said Maira Sutton, EFF global policy analyst.  “Countries around the globe should be skeptical when considering the recommendations of the USTR Special 301 Report and push for fair use and open access when adopting and enforcing IP laws.”
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