The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has made a good deal of intellectual property news recently, given their copyright and trademark lawsuit against the Yes Men for the latter's fake press conference and website, in which they impersonated the Chamber and claimed that it was reversing its position on climate change legislation.
Of course, the Chamber is more than just a plaintiff when it comes to IP issues—they're one of the reasons that more lawsuits like theirs may soon be replicated overseas. That's because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the biggest proponents pressing the government for the creation and passing of ACTA, the so-called Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Not only is it pushing hard for the adoption of the secretive treaty, it's also hosted meetings between U.S. and European governments at which ACTA was a key topic of discussion.
And the Chamber claims that ACTA, sight unseen by the public, will “help protect American workers and businesses.” Whatever negative consequences might flow from this treaty to consumers, online service providers, device makers, or other intermediaries is simply not accounted for, or is taken on faith, without supporting evidence.
There's an analogy here that I think might be a bit instructive. One bit of news that has been linked with the Yes Men hoax has been the recent defection of high-profile members from the Chamber. Apple, Exelon, Pacific Gas& Electric, and PNM Resources have all parted ways with the lobbying giant, disagreeing with its climate change denialism. Nike, while still a member, stepped down from the Chamber's board. In these cases, it seemed like the companies felt that the Chamber's position didn't represent the companies' best interests—either because its stance was detrimental because it was politically counterproductive, or because its stance might lead to policies that in the long run hurt the companies and their customers.
Now, the Chamber is claiming with the same absence of evidence that ACTA—whatever it may be—will benefit jobs and businesses. And as they continue to claim the weight of 3 million members behind this claim, one has to ask whether all of those members are sure that they will benefit, and stand nothing to lose, from a secret copyright treaty that could increase their copyright liability, encourage them to police their customers, or prevent the next great Internet innovation from taking hold? Or is the Chamber simply pressing forward with the same ideological inertia?
With 3 million members, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce undoubtedly has a wide variety of issues on its lobbying docket. Just as prominent members actively disagreed with the umbrella group's climate policy, it's likely fair to say that not all 3 million of those members have equal fervor for ACTA. In fact, one wonders if a significant percentage of those members would even know what ACTA is or how it could affect them. In the meantime, however, they are counted among the numbers of American industry lining up in favor of a treaty that few have seen any part of, and almost no one has seen in its entirety.
The Chamber's position on climate change has been articulated in its statement about publicly-available bills, administrative proceedings, and so on—documents and procedures that its members, and the public, can themselves examine and debate, and, if so inclined, disagree on to the point of breaking with the organization.
For ACTA, however, members are likely to have to take on faith that the motives and outcomes of the agreement will be good for them. Given the Chamber leadership's willingness to push an agenda in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, one can only speculate as to how well that faith is placed.