As two recent major IP events illustrate, the world continues to progress towards harmonisation in intellectual property laws.
The first is signature of the WIPO Internet Treaties by China, as well as by Australia and others. The second is release by the US of its latest section 301 report monitoring compliance with the vision of the US as regards desirable intellectual property laws and practices by countries worldwide.
WIPO Internet treaties signed by Australia and China
Australia's Attorney General, Philip Ruddock, announced recently that Australia is "joining two international treaties aimed at boosting copyright protection for material on the Internet."
The Attorney General adds in his 26 April 2007 press release, "The main feature of the treaties is the protection of copyright works, sound recordings and performances fixed in sound recordings within the online environment. They were adopted at a WIPO diplomatic conference in 1996, at which Australia played an active role. Australia was one of the first countries to implement the treaties with the Digital Agenda reforms to the Copyright Act in 2000."
He is writing about the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Internet Treaties. They include provisions relevant to digital rights management (DRM) or anti-circumvention, which Australia has already introduced into its copyright law. Those provisions in essence deem that a beach of copyright arises from an attempt to break DRM codes, eg as are used in digital music files (MP3, ACC etc).
China has also indicated that it will accede to the WIPO Internet Treaties in the second half of 2007. Here are the treaties Australia and China are joining and links to their text and related information:
WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT);
WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT).
US issues the latest watch list Special 301 Report
Meanwhile, the United States has released its latest Special 301 Report. It's a time for heads up in international trade relations. Section 301 of the US Trade Act of 1974 is used by US federal authorities to regularly monitor alleged intellectual property piracy, counterfeiting and infringement country by country worldwide.
The authorities monitor developments regarding trade in fake goods and all manner of breaches and allegations involving goods and services which bear or contain IP, eg trade marks, copyright material, inventions protected by a patent or trade secrets.
Where there is a country causing the US concern, the regular report places that country in either a watch list or a priority watch list. Legal action follows in the event of ongoing non-compliance.
In the "priority watch list" in 2007 are Russia and China, among others. But in the Executive Summary they are also noted as countries which show "positive progress". There is a 10 page overview of the current IP position in China at the end of the Report.
The 2007 Special 301 Report also sets out significant concerns with respect to such US trading partners as Argentina, Chile, Egypt, India, Israel, Lebanon, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela.
The US Department of Commerce describes section 301 as "the principal statutory authority under which the United States may impose trade sanctions against foreign countries that maintain acts, policies and practices that violate, or deny U.S. rights or benefits under, trade agreements, or are unjustifiable, unreasonable or discriminatory and burden or restrict U.S. commerce."
As background history, a combination of trade and legal threats involving section 301 by the US against several East Asian countries in the 1980s ultimately resulted in legal changes or introduction of IP laws in line with US desires and practices. For decades, section 301 has proved to be a useful tool in the US legal armory for bringing about compliance with US targets for IP protection internationally.
The collective impression is that the world continues to progress towards harmonisation in intellectual property laws and practises, including in China and Russia. For a contrary view, read James Surowiecki's Exporting IP, in the 14 May 2007 issue of The New Yorker.