Meera Nair

the $500 million tip of the TPP iceberg

In Posts on July 13, 2014 at 8:19 pm

Last week, international negotiators met in Ottawa to further discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. With the usual shroud of secrecy, few details regarding agenda and outcomes were released for public consumption. Nevertheless, based on a leaked copy of the chapter relating to intellectual property, there is sufficient reason for concern with respect to copyright. As reported last week (see Electronic Frontier Foundation here, Michael Geist here, Public Knowledge here, and VICE here) Canada’s copyright regime is likely to be challenged on at least two fronts:

  • the role of internet service providers (will they remain as neutral providers or become key figures in policing the internet?)
  • copyright duration (will Canada’s life-plus-fifty term give way to life-plus-seventy?)

Geist reminds us that the TPP will touch more than copyright; Canada’s privacy and patenting regimes are also implicated. Indeed, the question of Canadian sovereignty with respect to patenting is already at risk, via Eli Lilly’s $500 million challenge to the Canadian government regarding the loss of two secondary-use patents. The means by which Eli Lilly has launched its claim is a consequence of the Investor-State Dispute (ISD) mechanism of NAFTA.

Courtesy of Dennis Lowe and National Geographic

Courtesy of Dennis Lowe and National Geographic

Our made-in-Canada copyright regime has been painstakingly crafted over ten years of deliberative thought; to watch it cast aside will be difficult. But more deleterious will be further entrenchment of the ISD mechanism through the TPP. Yet this issue has received little attention in Canada. Perhaps in part because the topic is not sexy; Investor-State Dispute sounds painfully dull. The phrase cannot be summarily equated to freedom of expression, invasion of privacy, or even the dubious claim that a hit television series could not have been made under the TPP. ISDs are constructed with arcane language that seemingly has little to do with everyday life, but they are potentially lethal as is being demonstrated by Eli Lilly.

Eli Lilly provides the bizarre spectacle of a corporation suing a government because a court decision did not favour the corporation. It has vehemently insisted that the decision of Canadian courts not to uphold two secondary-use patents is a violation of investor safeguards provided through NAFTA; specifically, those relating to minimum standard of treatment, non-discrimination, and expropriation. That the courts rejected the patents because the drugs concerned did not live up to the standard of utility set by Canadian law, was not reasonable according to Eli Lilly. To take action against Canada required contorting the ISD chapter of NAFTA, despite the fact that the chapter in question does not apply to intellectual property. The entire event would read like a lurid novel, if novels were written about intellectual property and national sovereignty.

In a report dated to March 2013, Public Citizen provides a meticulously researched account of Eli Lilly’s actions and the operation of ISDs within trade agreements. At that time, Canada was only facing a $100 million challenge (Eli Lilly has since upped the ante); even so, Public Citizen did not miss the irony at hand:

… while Canada faces an investor-state challenge from Eli Lilly, the country has joined negotiations to establish the TPP, which would expand the investor-state system further. To date, Canada alone has paid more than $155 million to foreign investors after NAFTA investor-state attacks on energy, timber, land use and toxics policies. Underlying Eli Lilly’s claim against Canada is the notion that government patent policies and actions are subject to the investor privileges provisions of the agreement.

Public Citizen observes that Eli Lilly’s actions marks the first occasion of an intellectual property challenge occurring under the auspices of NAFTA’s ISD provisions. Our previous “first”, the first challenge of any kind, does not offer much comfort, resulting as it did in a loss both monetarily and for public health. Briefly, in 1997 a ban on the gasoline additive MMT was repealed by the Canadian government in response to opposition by Ethyl Corporation, the American producer of the additive. At the time, Public Citizen wrote:

The Canadian government settled the NAFTA suit yesterday agreeing to pay Ethyl $13 million in damages and to cover the company’s legal costs. It will also proclaim publicly that MMT is “safe” in direct contradiction of the view of its national environmental protection agency.

With respect to Eli Lilly’s present action, Michael Geist and E. Richard Gold (Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University) have both indicated that the corporation’s chances of winning are slim. Notably, in a briefing session recently held in Washington DC, Gold indicates that “… no competent tribunal could rule in Eli Lilly’s favor”. We can only hope that both Geist and Gold are correct. But competence might prove a relative term; so far, arbitration tribunals have not distinguished themselves in weighing public interest (as a domestic court of law would) into the decision-making process. (Public Citizen has thoroughly documented past arbitration decisions, with added detail for some of the more egregious outcomes.) Moreover, even if Canada secures a win, that does not necessarily exclude involvement in costs.

The Washington DC briefing session was hosted by the firm of Stern, Kessler, Goldstein and Fox on 5 June 2014, with all the presentations posted online. I am hard pressed to choose a favorite but Simon Lester (Trade Policy Analyst, Cato Institute) raises the issue of Canada’s increasing involvement with ISDs. Despite some indication from the Canadian government that CETA (the impending trade deal with the European Union) will mitigate the ISD risks, Lester notes that Canada is simply trying to “tweak the language” to ensure that court decisions cannot be challenged. “…  what I have seen written is that the only changes are that no claims can be made under expropriation, but there are more avenues [of claim]… the slight tweaks that Canada wants to make are probably not enough.”

If the Canadian government is not decisively protecting sovereignty within a bilateral trade negotiation, it is unlikely that we will do better in the multi-national forum of the TPP.

There is much more that could and should be written about ISDs but, for now, Lester shall have the last word. In his presentation, he asks an important question: “Normally, the Supreme Court gets the final word. But apparently, there’s an international court system above the domestic Supreme Court system.  … Is everybody okay with that?”






after Marrakesh

In Posts on June 23, 2014 at 7:59 am

June 28 marks the one year anniversary of the completion of a diplomatic conference to facilitate access to published works for blind, visually impaired and print disabled people. Known as the Marrakesh Treaty, its purpose is to address the book famine that currently exists with respect to anyone of limited reading capability, by: (i) facilitating creation of appropriately formatted materials with the use of exceptions to copyright; and (ii) allowing countries to share materials, thereby reducing costs all round. Hailed as the Miracle in Marrakesh, it is the first multilateral treaty on limitations and exceptions to copyright, and gives credence to the view that negotiation among stakeholders is possible.

But no one had any expectation that the treaty would move forward smoothly. (Some of my earlier coverage is here and here). Prior to last year’s conference, Tatiana Sinodinou posted a detailed assessment of the situation; reminding us that these negotiations began more than thirty years earlier, when UNESCO and WIPO jointly created a working group to examine the possibilities for enhancing access to copyrighted material for those handicapped by visual or auditory limitations.

Sinodinou eloquently captured the tension of what lay ahead: “… The road to Marrakesh is open but is not paved with roses and the outcome of the negotiations is awaited with both hope and reservations.” Given that history, the cooperation found a year ago was worthy of attribution to the miraculous. But tangible benefit is yet to be had; the miracle may give way to mirage if concerted action is not taken.

With the treaty language adopted on 27 June 2013, delegates were invited to sign the treaty on 28 June 2013 and agree to:

… to introduce a standard set of limitations and exceptions to copyright rules in order to permit reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in formats designed to be accessible to [blind, visually impaired and print disabled persons] and to permit exchange of these works across borders by organizations that serve those beneficiaries …

Fifty-one countries immediately obliged. Over the past year, sixteen others signed. And this morning came the welcome news that Australia, Finland, Ireland and Norway have also signed.

Canada’s absence of support is glaring, particularly given the role Canada purportedly played in negotiating the treaty; see Sara Bannerman’s remarks here and Michael Geist’s remarks here.

Geist points out that Canadian law will only need minor modification and that the Federal Government could make such changes during the upcoming scheduled review of Canadian copyright law in 2017. But, he also writes:

The biggest change would likely come from the need to establish an entity that would facilitate, promote, and disseminate accessible format copies of work and exchange information with other countries about accessible works. In other words, the treaty would require Canada to invest in improving access for the blind.

Fortunately, CELA might serve that need. Officially launched on 1 April 2014, with a formal debut at the Canadian Library Association’s National Conference on 29 May 2014, the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) is a non-profit organization that serves Canadians with print disabilities. Supported by the Canadian Urban Libraries Council and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, CELA already has 600 member libraries across Canada. Among the services provided by CELA are:

- A broad choice of formats including audio, braille, e-text and described video
– Access to a growing collection of over 230,000 alternate format items including books, magazines, newspapers and described videos
– A broad selection of genres: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s, young adult, business, self-help, poetry and more
– A choice of delivery options: Direct download to computer, handheld devices and DAISY player; CD and braille mailed to home
– Training and expertise on accessibility

Of course, this only makes it more perplexing that our government is holding back on signing the treaty.

On a brighter note; Israel, which is not yet among the list of signatories, nevertheless amended its copyright law expressly to comply with the treaty requirements. At Israel Technology Law, Eli Greenbaum writes that the Israeli implementation exceeds the minimum standards required. (Hopefully, ratification is forthcoming quickly.) And it appears that India had planned to ratify the treaty by now; in his coverage last month for SpicyIP, Swaraj Paul Barooah writes: “G.R. Raghavender, Registrar of Copyrights, has stated that the ratification is expected by the end of May, 2014.” (Perhaps the election delayed the plans, but the new Indian government intends to act quickly?)

Until twenty countries ratify the treaty, and none have done so yet, the treaty cannot have force. In a lecture given at the Berkman Center on 23 April 2014, Justin Hughes, (chief negotiator for the United States for the Marrakesh Treaty) was unequivocal that much more needs to be done:

The real policy goal, the real thing we should care about is getting educational/cultural/informational materials into the hands of persons with print disabilities. And when you sign the treaty, you haven’t succeeded.

This journey is far from over; the road did not stop at Marrakesh.


More reading:

Explanatory notes, courtesy of World Blind Union.
User Guide to The Marrakesh Treaty, prepared by Jonathan Band.
The 1982 WIPO/UNESCO report is available at Knowledge Ecology International.


Update July 1  India becomes the first country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty (dated to June 30, 2014)




second circuit stays on message

In Case Reviews on June 15, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit added to an already-healthy body of American affirmative decisions concerning fair use. In this instance, Authors Guild, Inc. v. HathiTrust, the scanning of entire books to allow for a full-text search of the content was given resounding support. In the process, the judges further explored the nuance of the commercial and transformative considerations inherent to discussion of fairness. Moreover, as Pamela Samuelson observes and Kevin Smith draws explicit attention to, the decision shows a coalescing of opinion with respect to transformative use among multiple circuits. The end result is strong guidance in the United States, and a discussion which benefits any jurisdiction that must mediate between control and use of copyrighted works, via the language of fairness.

Like the Google Books project (see here for my coverage of that district court decision), the roots of this case were established in 2004 with a scanning project in partnership with Google. Briefly, several American research universities arranged to have their library book holdings scanned and stored in electronic form. HathiTrust was established to operate the HathTrust Digital Library (HDL); currently, over 80 colleges, universities and non-profit organizations can apply full text search capability to over 10 million works spanning a myriad of languages and subject matter. But, unlike Google Books, snippets of content are not made available; instead, members can only obtain bibliographic and referential information. Exception is made only for the print-disabled; under such circumstances, content is provided.

It is more than curious that authors and their representatives should take issue with this venture; any project that enables people to find information about books, become interested in them, and possibly acquire them, would seem to be of benefit to authors. Apparently not so. The Authors Guild and its allies brought litigation forward. Losing on the grounds of fair use at the district court in 2012, the Guild pressed on with an appeal. And now that too has been declared a loss. James Grimmelmann, (Professor of Law, University of Maryland) succinctly evaluates the decision:

… mass digitization to make a search engine is fair use, and so is giving digital copies to the print-disabled. The opinion on appeal is sober, conservative, and to the point; it is the work of a court that does not think this is a hard case.

But the fun is in the details. As readers likely know, four factors come into consideration with fair use.

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

Consistent with other fair use decisions of the past few years, transformative use is a key determinant. As such, the meaning of transformative was the necessary starting point. The judges turned to the American standard bearer of fair use case law, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose (1994) which draws from the writings of Pierre Leval (attorney and subsequent judge):

A use is transformative if it does something more than repackage or republish the original copyrighted work. The inquiry is whether the work “adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning or message . … [T]he more transformative the new work, the less will be the significance of other factors that may weigh against a finding of fair use” (p.16-17).

Set upon this language, the analysis gets off to a brisk start:

The creation of a full‐text searchable database is a quintessentially transformative use. …  the result of a word search is different in purpose, character, expression, meaning, and message from the page (and the book) from which it is drawn (p.18).

The decision includes a plethora of examples of transformative uses, taken not only from the corpus of the Second Circuit but also from the Ninth and Fourth Circuits (p.19).

(2) The nature of the copyrighted work

This factor can be troublesome by virtue of the vagueness of the language. Whether the source of copying was unpublished or published, whether the work was creative or utilitarian, have been fodder for discussion. But as fair use has evolved, this factor is likely to be set aside when transformative use is established (p.20).

(3) The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

The Judges remind their readers that the position of the Second Circuit is: “[t]here are no absolute rules as to how much of a copyrighted work may be copied and still be considered a fair use (p.20).” As sufficient precedent exists which sanction the copying of entire works; they do not have to dwell too much upon this issue:

In order to enable the full‐text search function, the Libraries, as we have seen, created digital copies of all the books in their collections. Because it was reasonably necessary for the HDL to make use of the entirety of the works in order to enable the full‐text search function, we do not believe the copying was excessive (p.20-21).

Adjudication of fairness sets bounds to words like necessary and reasonable by virtue of the use the source work was put to. It is increasingly unlikely that any future court will be swayed by mere quantification of the amount used.

However, as the Guild took issue with the copies made to achieve technological efficiency and disaster preparedness, the Judges were required to devote some time to what ought to be routinely accepted by now – that copying happens when infrastructure is predicated upon digital technology:

 HDL’s services are offered to patrons through two servers, one at the University of Michigan (the primary server) and an identical one at the University of Indiana (the “mirror” server) … According to the HDL executive director, the “existence of a[n] [identical] mirror site allows for balancing the load of user web traffic to avoid overburdening a single site, and each site acts as a back‐up … in the event that one site were to cease operation (for example, due to failure caused by a disaster, or even as a result of routine maintenance).” (p.21)

The use of two encrypted tape backups was also deemed an appropriate precaution, should disaster bring about large-scale data loss at both servers.

(4) The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Here, the judges’ language bodes particularly well for fair users, but not so well for the larger avarice of some copyright holders:

…  it is important to recall that the Factor Four analysis is concerned with only one type of economic injury to a copyright holder: the harm that results because the secondary use serves as a substitute for the original work…. In other words, under Factor Four, any economic “harm” caused by transformative uses does not count because such uses, by definition, do not serve as substitutes for the original work (emphasis mine, p.22).

Thus, despite the Guild’s claim that the use of each book represents a lost license-to-search-the-book, the judges determined that no economic harm has been inflicted as full-text search capability is not a substitute for the original works.

Grimmelmann observes the lack of reference to American Geophysical (1996) but its ghost is there. That case contributed greatly to fair use’s dysfunctional period in the United States, when any use was deemed unfair because it could have been licensed. (Canada has avoided such circular reasoning; our Supreme Court nipped that in the bud with its insistence during CCH Canadian (2004) that the presence of a license was irrelevant to a decision of fair dealing.)

The route by which the Court rebuts the lost-license argument is puzzling. In the initial explanation of the four factors (p.16-17), the fourth factor is deemed the “most important” (citing Harper & Row v. Nation (1985)—the famous scooping from Gerald Ford’s as-of-then-unpublished memoir). But in its analysis, the Court quickly invokes Campbell’s reminder that only secondary uses that poach the market for the original are subject to censure. Given, as Smith notes, that Campbell is the leading Supreme Court decision, the Second Circuit took an odd route to get there.

But it is hard to believe that the trio of judges were casual or careless in the composition of their decision. In judicial opinion, words are chosen with the utmost of care. Which invites the question: why this route?

Campbell also ushered in a change in procedure; when examining potential fair use, judges must avoid imposing a hierarchy among the four factors. To return to a hierarchy of factors would seem either dangerous, or at least ill-advised. Or, this might be a calculated effort on the part of the Second Circuit to irrevocably consign any apparition of American Geophysical to the dustbins of history.

The Second Circuit has worked diligently towards rehabilitating fair use, to make it a robust exception. Notably, in two key decisions in 2006 (Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling-Kindersley and Blanch v. Koons), less attention was paid to market consideration, with a conspicuous disinterest in adding to licensing revenue even when mechanisms of licensing existed. Yet, that message does not appear to have been widely received. Perhaps the Second Circuit has decided to make their message more explicit by deliberately invoking the earlier edict that the market reigns supreme, but under the strict boundary of the original market.

Given that Second Circuit’s jurisdiction includes the nerve-centre of American publishing, this could have significant ramifications. At the very least, it ought to give the Authors Guild something to reflect upon before the Guild moves ahead on the Google Books Appeal. [see update below]

With a nod to the late Lyman Ray Patterson, the events that gave rise to copyright and fair use were the competitive (or anti-competitive) actions of professional publishers. Copyright’s reach only extended to the regulation of sales of substantially similar works. Effectively, the Authors Guild gave the Second Circuit a reason to offer up language that ensures future market consideration must expressly reject rent-seeking behavior and only support copyright holders when a new work trespasses into the same market as that of the original work.

The four factor analysis concerning the provision of works for the print-disabled was also handled well and the provision deemed fair use. It would be nicer though, if everyone could simply say it is the right thing to do, and leave it at that. With the anniversary of the Marrakesh Treaty approaching, there is more to come on the subject of making copyrighted works accessible to print-disabled communities everywhere.

Update July 11 The Authors Guild appears intent on pursuing the appeal against Google Books. Readers may recall that this scanning project was deemed fair use at its district court hearing. The Authors Alliance has a nice post describing their support for Google Books (with a link to their amicus brief).


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