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Summary:

In a rite of spring, US trade officials have released a “priority watch list” for copyright that places nations like Canada alongside the likes of China, Russia and Pakistan.

American flag
photo: Corbis

In a rite of spring, US trade officials have released a “priority watch list” for copyright that places nations like Canada alongside the likes of China, Russia and Pakistan.

The annual exercise is supposed to trigger a flurry of “time to get tough on copyright” editorials in the countries that are named and shamed. The list is also a great tool for content owners and their lobbyists to browbeat politicians into passing US-style copyright legislation.

But something funny happened this year. The list, released yesterday, got little traction with many foreign media outlets which now seem to have decided that America has cried copyright wolf once too often.

This year’s “watchlist” was reported in US news outlets (especially those in Los Angeles) but was largely ignored by foreign media outlets that usually parrot its findings.

About time. The reality is that countries like Canada have strong copyright law. It’s insulting to put Canada and other US allies like India on a list of countries that don’t respect basic rule of law.

This is also a good time to recall that more copyright law is not always better copyright law. The US model, for instance, includes penalties of $150,000 for a single violation and copyright terms that last over a century. This year, America also outraged another ally, Britain, by extraditing one of its 23-year-old citizens over a downloading website. Is the model for the rest of the world to follow?

US content owners are right to say there are holes to patch in copyright law. But lies, hysteria and insults are no way to get the job done.

It’s time for the US to throw away the stupid watch list once and for all.

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