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US government publishes annual report assessing copyright regimes around the world

By | Published on Tuesday 2 May 2023


The office of the US Trade Representative last week published its annual list of countries that should really try harder when it comes to protecting copyright. Argentina, Chile, China, India and Indonesia all find themselves on a priority watch list.

The USTR’s team puts together two annual lists regarding intellectual property infringement around the world. Firstly, the Notorious Markets list focused on physical and digital marketplaces where rights are infringed. Then this newly released list – aka the Special 301 Report – which sets out those countries where the US reckons there are issues with the local IP laws and/or the enforcement of those laws.

The lists are based on input from groups representing the American IP industries, including the music industry. Seven countries are on the priority watch list this year, with 22 on the main watch list, all of which – the US reckons – have work to do to properly protected the rights of American “inventors, creators and brands”.

Among the changes this year, Belarus has been added to the watch list. This, the USTR says, is “in response to Belarus passing a law that legalised unlicensed use of certain copyrighted works if the right holder is from a foreign state ‘committing unfriendly actions’, including sanctioning Belarus for their role in Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine”.

“Furthermore”, it adds, “Belarus can keep royalties from this unlicensed usage and shift them to Belarus’s general budget, meaning that the Lukashenka regime would directly financially benefit from this unauthorised usage”.

Bulgaria has also been added to the watch list because “it did not sufficiently address deficiencies in its investigation and prosecution of online piracy cases, such as by allowing criminal investigations, expert examinations and prosecutions to proceed with just a subset of seized infringing works. USTR will again conduct an out-of-cycle review of Bulgaria in 2023 to assess whether Bulgaria makes material progress in this area”.

As for China, there have been some positive developments regarding the enforcement of IP rights there in recent years, but American copyright owners still “raise concerns about the adequacy and effective implementation of these measures, as well as about long-standing issues like technology transfer, trade secrets, bad faith trademarks, counterfeiting, online piracy and geographical indications”.

Somewhat more positively, the USTR also reports that “several trading partners continued to advance IP protection and enforcement by enacting major legal reforms. For example, Thailand’s amendments to the Copyright Act entered into force in August 2022. Vietnam’s amendments to the IP Code entered into force in January 2023. Nigeria adopted the Copyright Act, 2022 in March 2023”.

Says the current USTR Katherine Tai: “Innovation and creativity are at the heart of American competitiveness. That is why the Biden-Harris administration’s new story on trade includes lifting up the 60 million jobs and workers in our IP-intensive industries through robust IP protection and enforcement in foreign countries”.

“Our administration will continue to engage with the trading partners identified in this year’s report”, she adds, “to empower our inventors, creators and brands, and to demonstrate that trade can deliver tangible results across the American economy”.

You can access the full Special 301 Report here.