Throw ‘em in Prison

by on April 27, 2007 · 2 comments

One advantage the patent system clearly does have over the regulatory state is that you generally can’t go to jail for patent infringement, as you can for selling lobster tails that are the wrong size and packaged in the wrong kind of containers. Over at Ars Technica, I’ve got a story about legislation in Europe that could have taken the first step toward changing that. Fortunately, the good guys scored a partial victory by getting patents removed from the scope of the second Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive.

However, there’s still some scary stuff in there. “Inciting” copyright infringement can still be a criminal offense, opening the door to jailing the creator of the next YouTube or MP3 player. Moreover, it’s a criminal offense to infringe other “intellectual property rights” on a “commercial scale.” These include “geographical indication” rights, meaning that a winemaker from outside the Champagne region of France could not only be sued but thrown in jail for selling his sparkling wine as “champagne.”

What’s not clear is why any of this is necessary. Piracy isn’t an especially serious problem in Europe, and the authorities already have plenty of weapons in their arsenal. Politicians have gotten in the worrisome habit of throwing people in jail just to prove that they’re serious about whatever the problem-of-the-week happens to be.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Well, the process of criminalizing IP violations has a longer history in Europe.

    You might recall the case of Stanly Adams, who was arrested and imprisoned for divulging what he knew about Hoffman La Roche’s involvement in an illegal price fixing scheme.

    From a time magazine article:

    “Secrecy in Switzerland is a big business, encased in laws that carry stiff penalties for violations like breaking the shroud of anonymity around numbered bank accounts. Sometimes, though, Swiss secrecy gets in the way of enforcement of other countries’ laws. In one current case, the aftermath has been both bizarre and tragic; it includes the jailing of a former executive of a giant drug company, the suicide of his wife and a threat to have two high officials of the European Economic Community (Common Market) arrested if they set foot in Switzerland.

    Ironically, the drug executive, 47-year-old Stanley Adams, was doing what he thought was right, and the EEC officials — Willy Schlieder, the EEC’s director general for competition, and Albert Borschette, an EEC commissioner — were only doing their jobs. Their saga began two years ago when Schlieder and Borschette opened an investigation into pricing policies of Adams’ employer, Hoffmann-La Roche & Co., the giant Basle-based pharmaceutical company. The EEC was curious as to why there were wide country-to-country variances in prices for livestock vitamins and two popular Roche tranquilizers, Librium and Valium. Officials suspected Roche of violating several articles of the Treaty of Rome, which governs trade between Common Market countries. If so, the company would also be in violation of a separate trade agreement between the EEC and Switzerland, which is not a member of the Common Market.”

    This is an example of corporate fascism.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Well, the process of criminalizing IP violations has a longer history in Europe.

    You might recall the case of Stanly Adams, who was arrested and imprisoned for divulging what he knew about Hoffman La Roche’s involvement in an illegal price fixing scheme.

    From a time magazine article:

    “Secrecy in Switzerland is a big business, encased in laws that carry stiff penalties for violations like breaking the shroud of anonymity around numbered bank accounts. Sometimes, though, Swiss secrecy gets in the way of enforcement of other countries’ laws. In one current case, the aftermath has been both bizarre and tragic; it includes the jailing of a former executive of a giant drug company, the suicide of his wife and a threat to have two high officials of the European Economic Community (Common Market) arrested if they set foot in Switzerland.

    Ironically, the drug executive, 47-year-old Stanley Adams, was doing what he thought was right, and the EEC officials — Willy Schlieder, the EEC’s director general for competition, and Albert Borschette, an EEC commissioner — were only doing their jobs. Their saga began two years ago when Schlieder and Borschette opened an investigation into pricing policies of Adams’ employer, Hoffmann-La Roche & Co., the giant Basle-based pharmaceutical company. The EEC was curious as to why there were wide country-to-country variances in prices for livestock vitamins and two popular Roche tranquilizers, Librium and Valium. Officials suspected Roche of violating several articles of the Treaty of Rome, which governs trade between Common Market countries. If so, the company would also be in violation of a separate trade agreement between the EEC and Switzerland, which is not a member of the Common Market.”

    This is an example of corporate fascism.

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