African Drug Cops to Go After Pirates

In the past, parallels between narcotics enforcement and copyright enforcement may have been drawn, but in one country parallels are out of the window, as copyright and trademark enforcement will now be treated as drug trafficking.

There is a growing trend towards trying to treat copyright infringement in the same way as narcotics, right around the world. There are restrictions on obtaining large numbers of DVDs, as there is for ephedrine. There are even sniffer dogs looking for pirated CDs and DVDs (although their effectiveness is highly debatable). It was only a matter of time until someone decided to lump it in with drug enforcement. That someone was President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana.

In some ways, Ghana could be the US of the future. Like America, they have a presidential election at the end of the year to replace a president that can not run again, having had two 4-year terms in office. They were once a colony of the UK, and politicians reportedly take bribes, just like the US. At the same time, they are quick to crack down on anything that seems to affect their backers, as a push to deal with counterfeit goods and ‘piracy’ has been proposed by the government.

“This insidious crime of product counterfeiting has become a global phenomenon; it’s no longer the canker of the under-developed or developing world,” president John Agyekum Kufuor said in a recent statement“The developed world is also battling with counterfeiting products albeit at a scale lower than in our part of the world”.

It would also seem that the president had been reading the recent BSA report, and following its (severely flawed) economics, when he noted “that counterfeit products denied genuine products of the rightful market share, costing governments significant amounts in lost tax revenues as well as threatening jobs”. Perhaps he missed how money spent locally stays in the local economy, but money spent on outside goods leaves the country. This money can’t be used elsewhere to generate MORE tax, and keeping jobs going.

What, though, is their ‘solution’? As the Ghana News Agency (GNA) put it in a July 23rd report, the Criminal Investigation Department of the police, will “handle counterfeiting and piracy crimes as drug trafficking.”

As anyone that lives in the real world knows, decades of treating drug trafficking as drug trafficking hasn’t exactly limited it. Moreover, while ownership of something like cocaine is illegal pretty much anywhere in the world, and has a distinctive smell, counterfeit goods by their nature look like legitimate items. Piracy is even worse, in that what some consider criminal, others consider a civil offence, and yet others see no problem at all. In some instances what may be an infringement of copyright, may be a legitimate fair use, depending on circumstance.

Can it succeed? As already noted, the approach hasn’t worked for a rigidly defined area such as narcotics, why should it in the legal miasma that is copyright and patent law. What it appears to be is another attempt to treat the symptoms, and although that works in some cases (Cholera for instance), it doesn’t in this case.

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