Why Is Consumers’ Research Pushing For Anti-Consumer Trade Deals, And Bad Intellectual Property Laws?

This is kind of bizarre. When you normally think of an organization like Consumers’ Research, you think that it should be looking out for the consumer’s best interests, and pushing back against corporations that are looking to make life worse for consumers. But apparently that’s not how it is. Consumers’ Research — importantly — is not to be confused with Consumers Union, which puts out Consumer Reports (and owns Consumerist). Consumers Union actually was created back in 1936 after a bunch of staffers revolted from Consumers’ Research and set up their own thing. And while Consumers Union took off, Consumers’ Research languished, such that many have probably never even heard of it. Somehow, however, it got a bizarre opinion piece published in the Hill all about strengthening the US’s intellectual property laws and supporting trade agreements (like TPP and TTIP) that do so (the article is actually from a few months ago, but a reader just sent it to me). The piece is written by Joe Colangelo, who is the executive director of the organization — though, from his LinkedIn profile, it appears he only graduated college (with a political science degree) in 2007, and then was in the Navy until 2011. After that he was a sales manager for some company and a consultant at Booz Allen (the giant government contractor) before becoming exec director of Consumers’ Research. It’s not clear what (if any) “consumer” background he has, other than (I assume) buying stuff every so often.

The opinion piece is a mess from the beginning:

With both sides of the aisle focusing on bettering the middle class this new Legislative session, Congress should consider determining how to better protect the intellectual property of innovative Americans. America’s knowledge-based economy requires international treaties and enforcement of current laws to keep American IP safe and to encourage innovation.

Wait, why? There’s a ton of research showing that greater enforcement of IP and stricter IP laws have actually done plenty to discourage innovation. It’s why most of Silicon Valley is pushing for new laws to fix the patent system, not strengthen it. And, it’s why plenty in Silicon Valley are worried about agreements like the TPP for not including important features like fair use, a lack of which will stifle innovation.

IP-intensive industries create more high paying U.S. jobs than any other sector. A 2010 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Patent and Trademark Office found that direct employment in IP-intensive industries in the U.S. accounted for 27.1 million jobs, and indirect activities associated with those industries provided an additional 12.9 million jobs for a total of 40 million jobs. Jobs related to IP industries comprise a staggering 27.7 percent of all jobs in the U.S. economy.

Oh gosh. Not this report again. It’s been debunked so many times even bringing it up tends to be a sign of someone who is obviously ignorant of the facts. Once again, the report assumes — incorrectly — that if an industry gets a lot of copyright/patents/trademarks every bit of that industry only exists because of existing copyright/patent/trademark laws. It doesn’t take into account that much of the economic activity may have nothing to do with those laws. Nor does it consider if there would be even greater economic activity if those laws were different — either weaker or stronger. All you have to do to understand how messed up the report is, is to recognize that the leading “employer” cited in the report… is grocery stores. Anyone who thinks that grocery stores exist because of IP laws is clearly delusional or ignorant.

Yet, Colangelo not only accepts the study’s questionable methodology, but falsely assumes it means more or stronger IP must mean more such jobs — even though the report makes no such claim at all. Colangelo makes a random reference to a meaningless Apple patent, and some nonsense about “21st Century policies” and then starts ranting about piracy:

Illegally downloading content is not a legitimate option. Just as in the physical world, online, freedom does not mean lawlessness. Users must be aware of the consequences of internet piracy. Pirating a movie is just as illegal as slipping a DVD into your pocket and stealing it at a discount store. A truly free Internet, like any truly free community, is one where people can engage in legitimate activities safely and where bad actors are held accountable.

Remember, folks, this is a guy supposedly supporting consumers’ interests, and he’s pushing the laughably misleading line (that even most of Hollywood has given up on) that a download of a movie is the same as stealing the DVD. Does he think “a truly free internet” is one in which legitimate news websites are shut down just because the entertainment industry (wrongly) asserts that there is some infringing music on the site?

Next up, we get a supposed “consumer advocate” repeating the Chamber of Commerce’s talking points:

Unfortunately, too many foreign governments treat IP theft as a victimless crime and look the other way, ignoring the economic and societal benefits that innovative economies offer. The lure of access to the U.S. market should be used as an incentive to convince trading partners that they should adequately protect IP rights, and to this end, the Global Intellectual Property Center recently published its third annual International IP Index. The Index serves as a tool for both government leaders and industry to evaluate the IP environments in 30 diverse economies around the globe. Effective IP protections are critical to trade agreement negotiations to protect software developers, artists, creators, innovators, and industry.

The Global Intellectual Property Center is a front group for the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce has a long history of opposing basically any and all consumer rights. I’m beginning to get the feeling that “Consumers’ Research” is not, in fact, a consumer group any longer, but a mouthpiece for the Chamber of Commerce, and a faux consumer group. These talking points do seem an awful lot like the old SOPA talking points, whose campaign was led by the Chamber of Commerce.

Protecting IP is more than just a policy imperative – it’s enshrined by our Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 8: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

This clause, articulated by the Founders, is rooted in the notion that the best way to encourage creation and dissemination of new innovations and creative works to the benefit of both the public good and individual liberty is to recognize one’s right to the fruit of their intellectual labor through intellectual property rights.

Actually, that clause is rooted in the notion that Congress is supposed to actually “promote the progress” for the public, like you would think a consumer advocate would support — and that means that it can use such powers if and only if they benefit the public. The Constitution does not require Congress to expand copyright and patent laws. It just gives it the option to do so if those laws benefit the public.

It appears that, as the fight for TPP heats up, you can expect all sorts of ridiculous bloviating from astroturfers and front groups. This particular article certainly suggests that “Consumers’ Research” and Joe Colangelo are much more aligned with the interests of the Chamber of Commerce and its anti-consumer sentiment than anything that resembles a “consumer advocacy” group — no matter the organization’s historical legacy.

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