Hollywood Lobbyists So Afraid Of Any Public Benefit From 'Intellectual Property' That They're Trying To Block COVID Vaccine Sharing

from the you-did-what-now? dept

Throughout the COVID pandemic, it's been truly shameful to watch how patent maximalists have tried to insist that we just need more patents to deal with COVID -- even though the incredible breakthroughs that brought such quick development of vaccines were not due to patents, but rather the free and open flow of information from a bunch of researchers and scientists who didn't care about whether or not information was locked up for profit, but did care about saving millions of lives.

And now that we've got vaccines, we're dealing with significant problems in rolling them out around the world -- and patents are often in the way, holding that rollout back. And we actually have a way of dealing with that: what's known as a TRIPS waiver. TRIPS is the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which set up a variety of standards among member nations and the WTO regarding intellectual property. I have many problems with TRIPS (and the WTO), but TRIPS does include a process to grant waivers on intellectual property rights. This was in response to (very legitimate!) concerns by less well off nations that rich nations would use the patent system to block access to important life saving medicines.

So, to ease such concerns, the TRIPS agreement includes a process by which the WTO can grant a compulsory licensing regime that will allow others to make patented drugs, and thus increase availability. A key point of this so-called waiver is that it allows for better allocations of certain drugs during medical emergencies. Given that, issuing such a waiver right now seems like a no-brainer. But... it has not been.

India and South Africa put forth a a fairly straightforward waiver request for dealing with COVID-19. The key part of the request is that intellectual property requirements under TRIPS solely in relation to the "prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19" should be waived during the course of the pandemic. It seems pretty straightforward. Even reliable patent maximalist sites like IP Watchdog are now publishing articles saying that the TRIPS waiver "is a necessary first step towards facilitating increased, rapid production of vaccines" and noting that it won't undermine the value of innovation in any way.

We've already noted that Big Pharma is lobbying against it -- which is to be expected. However, what is perhaps less expected is the fact that Hollywood is vehemently lobbying against it as well. Why? Well, they claim that because the waiver is not limited to just patents, it will be used to wipe away copyright as well.

This is... misleading at best. It is true that the waiver would cover copyrights, but only in an extremely limited fashion. As the part I quoted above notes, it only applies to intellectual property protections that are blocking the prevention, containment, and treatment of COVID-19. And, that can include a very limited set of copyrights. For example, there still remain shortages of ventilators in many parts of the world, and early on in the pandemic, people were working on 3D printing replacement parts to help deal with this extreme shortage. However, with some companies issuing threats over these 3D printed parts, there are legitimate concerns that copyright could be used to shut down such operations. Another area where a copyright waiver is likely to help is in allowing researchers easier access to important scientific journals and research that may help them develop more and better solutions.

As if to make Hollywood calm down, South Africa and India included an explicit statement in the waiver request to say that the waiver cannot be used for entertainment products: "The waiver in paragraph 1 shall not apply to the protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms (Sound Recordings) and Broadcasting Organizations under Article 14 of the TRIPS Agreement." That's literally the 2nd paragraph in a four paragraph waiver request. Already, it's kind of insulting that officials crafting this waiver request in an attempt to save lives had to waste time making sure that Hollywood wouldn't get angry at them.

And even then it didn't work.

The Motion Picture Association, which represents major movie and television studios, deployed five lobbyists to influence Congress and the White House over the waiver. The Association of American Publishers as well as Universal Music have similarly revealed that they are actively lobbying against it.

Neil Turkewitz, a former Recording Industry Association of America official, blasted the proposal on Twitter, claiming it will harm musicians, performers, and other cultural workers who are already struggling. 

“As COVID has undermined the livelihoods of creators around the [globe emoji], you want to further expand their precarity—in the name of justice?” Turkewitz wrote.

The Turkewitz quote is particularly disgusting. There is nothing in the waiver that will harm the livelihood of creators. Indeed, getting the world vaccinated is how we bring things back to normal to help open up the world to help those musicians, performers, and other cultural workers survive. For him to even suggest that this waiver somehow harms them is not just disinformation, it's disinformation that will kill people. It's disgusting.

And the lobbying by Hollywood goes beyond just what was reported in the above linked Intercept article. ITIF, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, which may sound like a think tank that is focused on the tech industry, but which has long had close ties to Hollywood (and, indeed, an ITIF paper was the basis for the terrible SOPA/PIPA laws a decade ago), recently came out with a laughably ridiculous attack on the waiver, claiming that there's no possible way copyrights should be included in it:

This latest affront to IP rights is, to say the least, ill-placed, if not misinformed. There is simply no compelling reason to focus on the suspension of copyright in this case.

Oh come on. People are fucking dying and this is the fight you want to have? It's not "suspension of copyright" that people are asking for. They're asking for a narrowly tailored, specific exemption to excessively restrictive copyright solely in cases where that exception is needed to help fight COVID. The idea that it is "ill-placed" or "misinformed" is pure propaganda.

And then, just as I was putting the finishing touches on this article, Senator Thom Tillis, who has made it clear that his main goal in the Senate is to push for Hollywood's extremist interests, wrote up one hell of an oped against the waiver. It is chock full of nonsense.

Yet, waiving intellectual property rights abroad would not hasten the end of COVID-19. It would harm our domestic IP industries, hand India and China valuable government-supported research free of charge and weaken the global IP system for decades to come. Just last week, in remarks before the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) Spring Summit Daren Tang, Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), stated that a strong intellectual property ecosystem was primarily responsible for allowing COVID-19 vaccines to “be brought to people in the fastest time in history.” I wholeheartedly agree...

First off, it wouldn't "harm" any domestic industry. That's nonsense. And if the research is for saving lives and (as Tillis states) was "government-supported" then it should be freely available to anyone. Government supported research means that the public paid for it and it should be widely available to anyone.

Second, just because a long time advocate of patent and copyright maximalism says something, doesn't automatically make it true. There is no evidence whatsoever that "strong intellectual property... was primarily responsible for allowing COVID-19 vaccines" to come about. Indeed, the stories about how the vaccines were developed show the opposite. They show how the free flow of information and ideas among researchers and scientists around the globe, and them agreeing to work together, rather than trying to lock up ideas, is what helped make it possible.

I can understand pharma companies fighting against it, even if that alone is disappointing given the situation. That Hollywood and its friends are flat out lying about it and creating a moral panic, claiming this will somehow hurt the creative industries, is dangerous disinformation.

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Filed Under: copyright, covid, health, hollywood, intellectual property waiver, patents, vaccines, wto


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 10:00am

    Does anyone still have any doubt that they value copyright more than human life?

    Not a SINGLE movie can prevent or treat covid, but JUST IN CASE we should make sure people die for not being able to pony up for access to the IP.

    Tell me again how the system isn't broken and I will so bitch slap you into next week.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2021 @ 10:32am

      Re:

      Not a SINGLE movie can prevent or treat covid, but JUST IN CASE we should make sure people die for not being able to pony up for access to the IP.

      You think this is broken? Wait until they legalize summary executions for "protecting their IP."

      Cop: "You have witnessed a copyrighted work owned by the AltMite Corporation. They are charging you $500.00 per second for access."
      Peasant: "I...."
      Cop: "Your bank account is reporting insufficient funds." *Gunshot*

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 10:54am

        Re: Re:

        This will end up in moderation because well its a link...
        I think this sums it up.

        https://imgur.com/gallery/62KM72K

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 May 2021 @ 12:48am

        Re: Re:

        "You think this is broken? Wait until they legalize summary executions for "protecting their IP.""

        Serious attempts have already been made, by multiple governments, for putting copying a file at the same level as rape and assault.

        Not that it helps. All that happens is the darknet grows deeper and wider. Copyright is a failed ideology which finds no traction in most of humanity because at the end of the day humanity evolved to share information and stories. It's what makes us human.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 11:45am

      Re:

      "Not a SINGLE movie can prevent or treat covid"

      There's a couple who that have been able to predict it with depressing accuracy, which, you could argue should have been able to help prevent the pandemic as a whole. But, we're left with the usual paradox - if people had taken the lessons on board and responded to COVID correctly because of the lessons imparted, we'd be talking about how they were just outlandish fiction..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 2:04pm

        Re: Re:

        But their elected leaders & saviors told them it was just like the flu.

        Sadly karma didn't manage to claim as many of them as she should have & instead they killed other people with their selfishness & stupidity.

        waits for an earlier response I posted to make it out of moderation, silly me I linked an image

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2021 @ 4:02pm

      Re:

      It is even worse than that - a license means they are getting paid some anyway by those who make it. They already basically are making it as fast as they can for several reasons so it would earn the makers /more money/! Getting Covid-19 pinned down and stopped from mutating would keep the investment long term too.

      It doesn't even make sense if your goal is making more money!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 6:24pm

        Re: Re:

        A running comment I make around here often is...

        Even the Mob knows that if you kill them they stop paying you.

        This is just another stupid thing thrown into the path of trying to stop a global pandemic.
        While mutations mean booster shots, if people are dead they don't need booster shots.
        The dead won't watch the latest hollywood blockbuster, but the most important thing to them here is...
        ZOMG WE MIGHT LOSE ALL OF OUR IP IF WE LET THEM SAVE LIVES!

        India has all the facilities to churn out enough vaccine to blanket their nation rapidly, but no one will let them have the recipe, because somehow it would harm all of these creative types because imaginary boogeymen.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 10:23am

    Your money AND your life

    That they are quite literally willing to prioritize even the chance that copyright might be even temporarily weakened or ignored over lives shows just how utterly vile and reprehensible they are, making it clear that it is not in any way an exaggeration or hyperbole to say that they value copyright more than they value human lives.

    At this point the affected countries should just flip scum like that the finger and start cranking out the needed vaccines and medical equipment and just dare these assholes to throw a fit about it, because there is no way 'we don't care that people are dying, copyright has priority' would go over well to anyone not an inhuman monster.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 11:51am

      Re: Your money AND your life

      Which is a little weird, because any logic would tell you that more vaccines and therefore both more people being alive and cinemas open without people afraid to go to them would logically lead to more ticket sales.

      Unless they're trying to secretly admit that they make more money through people being trapped inside than they do with people having a broader choice of leisure activities.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 May 2021 @ 1:57am

      Re: Your money AND your life

      "That they are quite literally willing to prioritize even the chance that copyright might be even temporarily weakened or ignored over lives shows just how utterly vile and reprehensible they are, making it clear that it is not in any way an exaggeration or hyperbole to say that they value copyright more than they value human lives."

      This bears repeating, because people keep forgetting that the greatest advocates of copyright maximalism have always been the sort of people who think of other people as exploitable property. Own the story, own the idea, own the person.
      "Intellectual property" is the veto right on telling stories and learning from others.

      To quote an old game; "Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BernardoVerda (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 10:52am

    Really? They deployed *at least* five lobbyists to fight this?

    Gosh, it sounds pretty important !

    Hmmm.... that's odd.
    I don't recall hearing a single word about this during the Oscar Awards ceremonies?

    I wonder why not..?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 11:49am

      Re: Really? They deployed *at least* five lobbyists to fight thi

      Because the people who typically receive Oscars are often artists who have a very different idea of the industry to the corporations in charge of it? If the corporations were totally in charge, I dare say that Nomadland and Parasite would not have been the big winners recently...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sumgai (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 11:11am

    “As COVID has undermined the livelihoods of creators around the [globe emoji], you want to further expand their precarity—in the name of justice?” Turkewitz wrote.

    Excuse me, but creators weren't, and still aren't, the only ones in the world whose livelihoods were undermined - what makes them so special, all of a sudden? And since when do we equate the concept of 'justice' with the concept of 'humanity'? That's conflation of the first order, and it should be called out for the base hypocrisy it is. (Of course, we are calling it out here on TD, but it needs a $10,000 full-page ad in the NYT to really get the word out.)

    Further, it is my understanding that the WHO can force the IP to be released under controlled conditions - why are these assholes thinking that Congress or the Whitehouse can block it? Could it be that they also believe that #45 is actually still running the show? Or do they really want us to pull out of all similar agreements, and leave us to hang separately? (hat tip to B.F.)

    Final word:

    .... claiming it will harm musicians, performers, and other cultural workers who are already struggling.

    At least those creators are alive to struggle! Creators will continue to create, whether or not there are consumers to absorb their creations. But if all the consumers are dead, or very nearly all of them, then the creators will, by definition, be struggling. Yet again proof that 1A protects stupidity. I don't mean the kind that idiots like this are spouting, I mean the bastards that are publishing it in the name of diverse opinions and robust public discourse. Used to be, back in the day, that misfeasant or malfeasant discourse was at least frowned upon, or more often, rejected out of hand. But that was before the days of indoor plumbing, so I'm dating myself, aren't I.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    christenson, 3 May 2021 @ 11:27am

    But think of Elsevier!

    All those journal articles that won't be locked up....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2021 @ 12:12pm

    I hate IP

    At least as currently implemented.

    Some economists have studied the effect of patents on innovation. They found that making patents easier to come by increased innovation. I have more than a little trouble with this study as they measured innovation using the number of patents granted as a proxy.

    Nonetheless maximalists will tell you that IP is vital for creativity. Never mind that the Bard of Avon had no copyright protection. Never mind that a few years back a study found that the average silicon valley startup spent more on IP lawyers than they did on engineers (and, if I understood it correctly, not because they wanted them to generate revenue from their IP, but because otherwise they would likely be sued out of existence).

    Maximalists will tell you that IP protection is vital to create and preserves industries, never mind that the fashion industry thrives despite almost non existent IP protection (not that I really think a thriving fashion industry is a good thing).

    To me the whole thing is one massive, rent-seeking, economy weakining, poverty creating, and sometimes life-threatening fraud.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 May 2021 @ 2:01am

      Re: I hate IP

      "To me the whole thing is one massive, rent-seeking, economy weakining, poverty creating, and sometimes life-threatening fraud."

      Ah, but it does accomplish what it sets out to do; kicking the ladder down to prevent anyone else from climbing.

      Yes, lobbying and lawyer fees do restrict innovation and tie up resources but it does ensure that your profits are guaranteed and competition absent for as long as you can make your chokehold on innovation last. Hence why there is so much money invested in this con.

      It's effectively the old medieval church heresy law. When only one outlet of information or entertainment is allowed, the middlemen possesses all the power. No wonder the copyright cult loathes the internet and keeps trying to make it as unwieldy and hard to use for independent creators as possible.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    n00bdragon (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 12:16pm

    Those researchers would never have created a COVID vaccine if they didn't expect a movie to be made about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 1:07pm

    Re: The tweet by Neil Turkewitz

    Neil Turkewitz, a former Recording Industry Association of America official, blasted the proposal on Twitter, claiming it will harm musicians, performers, and other cultural workers who are already struggling.

    “As COVID has undermined the livelihoods of creators around the [globe emoji], you want to further expand their precarity—in the name of justice?” Turkewitz wrote.

    Oh, like all the artists on the major labels from which you steal? THAT RIAA?

    Look, I think there are definitely good labels out there. Polyvinyl, for one. Hell, Entertainment One owned by Hasbro puts out their stuff on bandcamp, so I think they're cool.

    But Turkewitz having the chutzpah to talk about starving artists when he's really more interested in treating their output not as artistic works but a commercial product (Thanks PaulT for this helpful way of seeing things) should reveal that Turkewitz is throwing boulders from ice houses.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 May 2021 @ 2:37am

      Re: Re: The tweet by Neil Turkewitz

      Turkewitz has never posted anything that wasn't trash, or didn't toe the RIAA party line. But I repeat myself.

      He's even wandered onto Torrentfreak a couple of times and basically posted the same bobmail-level commentary.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 1:23pm

    À propos of nothing…

    I said that Neil Turkewitz "creates bullshit" on twitter, after which he blocked me. I feel so proud!

    https://twitter.com/IronCurtaiNYC/status/1389313210495418372

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bshock, 3 May 2021 @ 1:45pm

    I'm a little surprised you didn't mention the role that Billionaire Bastard Gates has played in keeping vaccines proprietary. https://khn.org/news/rather-than-give-away-its-covid-vaccine-oxford-makes-a-deal-with-drugmaker/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2021 @ 2:18pm

    hand India and China valuable government-supported research free of charge

    It's ok to hand drug companies both the research which is government-funded (and not just by the US) and research which lots of people did for absolutely nothing so that they can lock it up and make insane profits, particularly after they raise the vaccine price exorbitantly in the near future? That's cool, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 3 May 2021 @ 2:27pm

    government-supported research

    Come now Mike. Don't you realise that means that Senator Tillis is paying for this out of his OWN pocket??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2021 @ 5:43pm

    Live by the IP, die by the IP. I've always joked that copyright maximalists treasure IP over human lives because IP lasts 70 years longer than a human life, but I'm starting to think they might actually think this is the case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sumgai (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 6:15pm

      Re:

      Imagine if you will, an estate's Executor reading a will:

      It is my wish that my only son shall inherit this portfolio of IP from which to profit as he sees fit. It is my further wish that upon his demise, his first born child shall inherit the same portfolio, again to profit therefrom as he or she sees fit. Upon my grandchild's demise, .....

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 7:54pm

      Re:

      For at least the people covered in this article they have demonstrated that that very much is the case, they most certainly do value imaginary property over human lives.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2021 @ 6:49am

    Well, that settles it, then - lobbying kills. The sooner it's outlawed and destroyed, the better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 5 May 2021 @ 2:03am

      Re:

      "The sooner it's outlawed and destroyed, the better."

      It wouldn't be as problematic if the US had sensible laws around campaign financing. But when the bar of conduct of political accountability allows buying the candidate you might as well just give up on rearranging the deck chairs on that sunk ship.

      Lobbying would require a lot more actual game to succeed if the foremost message the lobbyist was bringing wasn't "We'll pay for your next campaign if you scratch our back".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2021 @ 8:36am

    isn't it about time that Hollywood and, indeed, the whole of the entertainment industries were not only exposed for what thet're doing but actually taken to task over it and stopped! the Internet, the Planet , not everything is theirs, as they seem to think! people are, by choice and by nature sharers but the entertainment industries want they very thing that made us human beings, the very thing that propmotes advancement in all things to be stopped, unless, of course these same industries not only give permission but are fucking well paid for doing so! not bad for a bunch of industries that only still exist because of their failure to observe the copyrights that had already been attributed to others! bunch of hypocritical wankers!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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