InsightaaS: Michael Geist is well-known as a Canadian lawyer, professor and journalist who is committed to protecting Canadians’ intellectual property (IP) and digital rights…a task that can be complex in a country that has an independent (and often enlightened) approach to copyright issues, but which faces pressure from the US to conform to (often unenlightened) US IP regulations, and which is ruled by a conservative government which often appears more interested in appeasing US lobbyists than in understanding how these issues do and might impact Canadians.
The post featured today provides an excellent example of the depth and value of Geist’s perspective. It deals primarily with in-transit shipments, an issue that might well lack excitement even for people with an interest in trade regulations. However, it is – as Geist explains – an important subject: the US is pressuring Canada to add seizure of in-transit goods to its pending anti-counterfeiting legislation, but misuse of in-transit seizures has caused many serious issues in other parts of the world (for example, in delaying shipments of needed medicines), and the EU, with which Canada is finalizing a trade pact, has a very different perspective on the issue.
It’s important to recognize that there are many different valid approaches to IP regulation: in another recent column, Geist noted that “while there is much bluster about “strong” European rules or “weak” Canadian laws, the reality is that both are compliant with international standards that offer considerable flexibility in implementation,” adding that “other countries have been considering adopting the Canadian model on issues such as Internet provider liability or the creation of user-generated content.” In the real world, countries and regions – ranging from the US, to the EU, and to Canada and other smaller states – need to balance what is (considered to be) right with commercial and trade partner requirements. Concepts of IP are often cultural, and as a result, may be better attuned to one nation/region than another – but as global trade in IP-based goods (and IP that is independent of goods) becomes ever-more the norm, all nations and trade agreements will need to find common ground that meets the needs of their governments, businesses and consumers.
Last year, the federal government trumpeted anti-counterfeiting legislation as a key priority. The bill raced through the legislative process in the winter and following some minor modifications after committee hearings, seemed set to pass through the House of Commons. Yet after committee approval, the bill suddenly stalled with little movement throughout the spring.
Why did a legislative priority with all-party approval seemingly grind to a halt?
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) suggests that the answer appears to stem from the appointment of Bruce Heyman as the new U.S. ambassador to Canada. During his appointment process, Heyman identified intellectual property issues as a top priority and as part of his first major speech as ambassador, singled out perceived shortcomings in the anti-counterfeiting bill.
Heyman’s primary concern relates to in-transit shipments, which involve goods that do not originate in Canada and are not destined to stay in Canada. The Canadian bill excludes in-transit shipments from the scope of new rules that grant customs agents unprecedented powers to seize suspect shipments without court oversight…