WASHINGTON The Obama administration added Canada Thursday to a notorious blacklist of countries where Internet piracy flourishes, reflecting a new, tougher line in Washington over the Harper government's chronic failure to deliver on promises of new copyright laws.
“Canada has never been put on the priority watch list before,” said Stanford McCoy, assistant U.S. trade representative for intellectual property and innovation as he released Washington's annual report or offenders.
Canada now joins a group of countries designated as being especially lax in protecting intellectual property, including Algeria, China, Russia, Pakistan, Indonesia and Venezuela. No other advanced Western democracy is on the list and Canada is regarded as a lawless hub for bootleg movies, ripped-off software and pirated chips that bypass copyright protections.
“The decision was not an easy one but we believed that high standards are appropriate in Canada,” Mr. McCoy said. It was clear that Washington's patience with Ottawa's repeatedly broken promises has run out, perhaps also a reflection of the greater status and power of the digital and entertainment sectors in the era of the net-savvy Obama administration.
“We would like to see them follow through on that commitment,” Mr. McCoy said, referring to a succession of unfulfilled Throne speech promises that new copyright law would be forthcoming.
‘The United States continues to have serious concerns with Canada's failure to accede to and implement the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) Internet treaties which Canada signed in 1997,” the report said.
For years, the powerful International Intellectual Property Alliance – a group that includes companies such as Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corp. – pressed the previous Bush administration to get tough with what it regarded as Canada's chronic failure to enforce intellectual property laws. But the Bush administration was content to leave Canada among the larger and less-serious group of offenders on the ordinary watch list.
The alliance cheered Canada's blacklisting Thursday. “We commend [the U.S. Trade Representative] for the decision to elevate Canada to the priority watch list,” it said. “Canada remains woefully behind the rest of the developed world (and many countries in the developing world as well) in adopting critical legislation that will facilitate the development of a healthy online marketplace for copyright materials,” said Eric Smith, an alliance spokesman.
“More than a decade has passed since the global community agreed to two international treaties providing minimum standards for protecting copyright in the digital age, but Canada has yet to join these treaties or to implement their obligations in domestic law.”
This week, Trade Minister Stockwell Day warned that the blacklist was coming.
Whether U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk gave Mr. Day a last chance to stay off the list remains unclear.
“They talked about the situation but I can't say that there were any particular commitments,” Mr. McCoy said Thursday.
President Barack Obama has signalled he intends to take a much harder stance with offenders who are lax about Internet piracy and fail to protect copyright.
“In the President's trade policy agenda, we noted that this administration will protect American innovations and creativity by negotiating and enforcing strong and effective intellectual property protections,” Mr. Kirk said this week.
Washington also wants Canada to put an end to the flow of pirated and counterfeit movies and DVDs that cross its porous borders. In particular, Washington wants Canadian customs officers to be given the authority to seize pirated materials rather than have to seek a court order each time they suspect a shipment. The flow of pirated and counterfeit material not only enters Canada from abroad but much of it winds up crossing into the United States.
“Canada's weak border measures continue to be a serious concern for intellectual property owners,” said the annual report issued Thursday by the U.S. Trade Representative.
Canada was singled out and is “being elevated to the priority watch list for the first time, reflecting increasing concern about the continuing need for copyright reform as well as continuing concern about weak border enforcement,” the report said.
Mr. Kirk said “even our closest allies and neighbours such as Canada” must understand that failure to protect intellectual property poses a threat to “one of America's great strengths in the global economy, our innovation and creativity.”
Thursday's blacklisting over Canada's lax copyright laws is only the latest shot in a swelling trans-border crossfire.
It was all quiet on the trade front when the year began, but the arrival of President Barrack Obama changed that. The new president's “Buy America” restrictions in his country's massive stimulus package sent shudders through Canadian manufacturers, the long-dormant softwood lumber dispute has been rekindled and then Ottawa announced it was hauling the United States off to the World Trade Organization in a nasty spat over new food labelling requirements that could throttle Canada's hog and cattle exports.