US State Department Pressuring Foreign Countries Into Taking SOPA Global

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 5 2012 9:38 AM

US State Department Pressuring Foreign Countries Into Taking SOPA Global

One check on the kind of blatant exercise of political clout to entrench incumbent business models represented by the so-called Stop Online Privacy Act is that both of the key industries impacted, high-tech and Hollywood, are competing in a global market place. A country that tries to stifle technology in order to prop up obsolete content business models is only going to find that its offerings in both fields eventually shrivel in the face of competition from products developed elsewhere. But the United States of America is a great power and the same industries that are often able to bend congress to its will in enacting increasingly draconian intellectual property laws have also succeeded over the past 15 years in getting large swathes of the executive branch to essentially act as their foreing lobbying agents in trying to strong-arm other countries into mimicking our own misguided policies. Spain, for example, recently passed controversial SOPA-style legislation in part under pressure from the US State Department:

As TorrentFreak explains, leaked letters reveal that the US Ambassador to Spain put pressure on the country’s government to push through the legislation, called the Sinde Law, threatening to add Spain to the Special 301 Report Priority Watch list of countries the US thinks is not doing enough to protect intellectual property rightsholders against piracy. Other countries on the list include China, Russia and, perhaps surprisingly, Canada.
Being on this list can lead to trade sanctions being imposed, blocking a country from exporting certain goods to the US if it is deemed to not be taking action the US believes appropriate for protecting copyright holders. With Spain’s economy far from healthy right now, that’s a potentially serious problem.
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Unfortunately, this sort of thing has become a larger and larger aspect of American "trade" policy where we try to offer the carrot of access to U.S. markets in exchange for foreign countries strengthening IP protections. Lost in all of this is the fact that nobody can explain what the alleged online piracy problem consists of. Americans aren't under-entertained. The past decade has seen the highest-quality television ever produced. There are plenty of movies to watch and albums to listen to.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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