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Latest round of online deplatforming shows why we need increased competition and decentralization

Another week means another politically-charged rampage of deplatforming of social media profiles and entire social media networks.

Following the storming of the U.S. Capitol by some of his supporters, President Trump was promptly suspended from Twitter and Facebook and later dozens of Internet services including Shopify and Twitch.

Even the image-sharing site Pinterest, famous for recipes and DIY project presentations, has banned Trump and any mention of contesting the 2020 Election. He’ll have to go without sourdough recipes and needlework templates once he’s out of office.

Beyond Trump, entire social media networks have also been put in the crosshairs following the troubling incursion on Capitol Hill. The conservative platform Parler, a refuge for social media dissidents, has since had its app pulled from the Google and Apple stores and had their hosting servers suspended by Amazon’s web service company AWS.

This pattern of removing unsavory profiles or websites isn’t just a 2021 phenomenon. The whistleblower website Wikileaks – whose founder Julian Assange remains in prison without bail in the UK awaiting extradition to the United States – was similarly removed from Amazon’s servers in 2012, as well as blacklisted by Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and their DNS provider. Documents reveal both public and private pressure by then U.S. senator and Intelligence Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman was instrumental in choking Wikileaks off from these services.

Then it was politicians pressuring companies to silence a private organization. Now, it’s private organizations urging companies to silence politicians.

However the pendulum swings, it’s entirely reasonable for companies that provide services to consumers and institutions to respond quickly to avoid risk. Whether it’s due to governmental decree or public backlash, firms must respond to incentives that ensure their success and survival.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Gab, or Parler, they can only exist and thrive if they fulfill the wishes and demands of their users, and increasingly to the political and social pressures placed on them by a cacophony of powerful forces.

It’s an impossible tightrope.

It is clear that many of these companies have and will continue to make bad business decisions based on either politics or perception of bias. They are far from perfect.

The only true way we can ensure a healthy balance of information and services provided by these companies to their consumers is by promoting competition and decentralization.

Having diverse alternative services to host servers, provide social networks, and allow people to communicate remains in the best interest of all users and consumers.

Such a mantra is difficult to hold in today’s hostile ideological battleground inflated by Silicon Valley, Washington, and hostile actors in Bejing and Moscow, but it is necessary.

In the realm of policy, we should be wary of proposed solutions that aim to cut off some services at the expense of others.

Repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, for example, would be incredibly harmful to users and firms alike. If platforms become legally liable for user content, it would essentially turn innovative tech companies into risk-averting insurance companies that occasionally offer data services. That would be terrible for innovation and user experience.

And considering the politically charged nature of our current discourse, anyone could find a reason to cancel you or an organization you hold dear – meaning you’re more at risk for being deplatformed.

At the same time, axing Section 230 would empower large firms and institutions that already have the resources to manage content policing and legal issues at scale, locking out many start-ups and aspiring competitors who otherwise would have been able to thrive.

When we think of the towering power of Big Tech and Big Government, some things can be true all at the same time. It can be a bad idea to use antitrust law to break up tech firms as it will deprive consumers of choice, just as these companies are guilty of making bad business decisions that will hurt their user base. How we respond to that will determine how consumers will continue to be able to use online services going forward.

All the while, every individual Internet user and organization has it in their power to use competitive and diverse services. Anyone can start up an instance of Mastodon (as I have done), a decentralized micro-blogging service, host a private web server on a Raspberry Pi (coming soon), or accept Bitcoin rather than credit cards.

Thanks to competition and innovation, we have consumer choice. The question is, though, if we’re courageous enough to use them.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.

The storming of the US Capitol fueled by demagoguery and a threat to republican democracy

Rioters occupy the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021

On Wednesday, we saw the worst passions of the American Republic storm through the doors of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

For hours, people around the world watched as marchers and protestors transformed into rioters who ransacked various congressional offices, posed for photos on the House floor, and terrorized hundreds of congressmen and women, senators, staff, journalists, and Capitol hill police.

One woman, a protestor and rioter from Arizona, was shot and killed by Capitol police. Three others died due to medical emergencies, according to Washington, D.C., Police Chief Robert Contee.

The march outflowed from a “Stop the Steal” rally held by President Donald Trump in the hours prior, decrying the results of the 2020 Election and fueling various allegations of voter fraud and manipulation.

He urged his supports at the rally to turn their attention to the U.S. Congress, where both bodies were deliberating the final tally of the Electoral College votes.

Our organization, the Consumer Choice Center, advocates for lifestyle freedom, innovation, and consumer-friendly policies, and we wouldn’t normally interject on issues of law and order. But considering how close yesterday’s events came to the heart of the American Republic, it is impossible to overlook.

What transpired at the Capitol yesterday was something no one should tolerate in a liberal democracy such as the United States. The ransacking of a seat of the federal government, by any force or group of individuals, is an act of aggression that should no doubt be prosecuted.

It was, no doubt, a result of demagoguery and a violent urging at the hands of U.S. President Donald Trump.

There are many items of concern that our organization has broadly agreed with President Trump on: questioning the role of the World Health Organization early on in the pandemic, dismantling burdensome regulations that quash innovation, pushing for the safe and orderly opening of the economy after devastating coronavirus restrictions, and more.

At the same time, we have opposed the Trump administration when it was most needed: issuing disastrous tariffs that raise prices for all consumers, introducing drug pricing plans that will set back innovation while making drugs more expensive, and a federal vaping flavor ban that will deprive former smokers of the ability to choose a less harmful alternative.

Personally, I have opposed Trump’s desire to severely restrict and reduce immigration to our country. My family immigrated to the U.S. some 30 years ago, and we have enjoyed a much more fruitful life because of it.

But those policy arguments and disagreements are secondary to the very real threat of a violent parade of hysteria through the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

We advocate for ideas to improve society based on the rule of law and democratic order. We use the means of free expression, free assembly, and the right to petition our government to ensure that policies that help every consumer and every citizen will be the law of the land.

Seeing a mob trample into the primary seat of one of America’s branches of government achieves none of that, and should be rightly condemned.

Our decentralized republican democracy based on a time-honored Constitution, a system that is unique to the United States and has allowed for some of the most promising economic and social innovation in the world, was threatened. And we cannot excuse these actions in the slightest.

As I wrote in Huffington Post shortly after Trump’s 2016 victory, we must understand the pivotal role of government in our lives, and this to protect our life, our liberty, and our pursuit of happiness:

“The role of government is not to solve every dispute in society, reflect the diversity of its people or even to advocate on behalf of a particular worldview apart from that of freedom.

It is, as most all founding documents claim, to protect the life and liberty of its citizens. To ensure domestic tranquility and to protect against the infringement of certain liberties so that citizens may be allowed to flourish and live their lives as they see fit.”

Yaël Ossowski, Huffington Post, November 10, 2016

From this point forward, we must restore the rule of law and advocate for liberal democratic principles to advance the American project.

That President Trump should continue to serve out the last two weeks of his term, after this insurrection and rebellion in our nation’s capital, is unacceptable.

Whether it be through his removal from office by the invocation of the 25th Amendment by Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet, or articles of impeachment in the U.S. House and swift removal by the U.S. Senate, something must be done to show to the world what happens when order and liberty are transgressed in a representative liberal democracy.

When the actions of certain individuals go too far, and when demagoguery threatens the very system that allows us to freely enjoy our liberty and pursue happiness how we see fit, that is an appropriate time to use the tools at our disposal to rectify injustice.

Let us hope justice conquers after the events of this week.

Fight mycotoxin contamination with modern technology

Every consumer will know this problem: you come home from a long trip but the fruits, vegetables, and yoghurt are still in the fridge. “Expiry dates are just an industry trick to sell more food” is a thought that leads some to disregard the mould that has formed on all of these items over time, or even to consider that the food is therefore healthy.

According to a study by the University of Copenhagen, many consumers believe that mold is a sign of “naturalness”. “What is objectively referred to as dirty is less frightening to us than apples which never rot. Similarly, having dirt under one’s nails has become a sign of health”, says Kia Ditlevsen, associate professor of UCPH’s department of food and resource economics.

However, the reality is very different. Mould carries mycotoxins, which are dangerous to human health, and in some cases, can be deadly. These toxic metabolites are divided into subcategories, namely aflatoxins, ochratoxin A (OTA), fumonisins (FUM), zearalenone (ZEN), and deoxynivalenol (DON – also known as vomitoxin), which can all be ingested through eating contaminated food, including dairy products (as infected animals can carry it into milk, eggs, or meat). 

In a home fridge, mould can develop through bad storage — the electricity went off for long and the cooling chain was interrupted, or direct sun exposure for a long period of time — or simple expiry of the product. 

Most disconcertingly, up to 28% of all liver cancers worldwide can be attributed to aflatoxins, and its immunosuppressant features leave humans weakened against other diseases. The features have been known to modern science since the turn of the century. 

In Africa, this is a deadly epidemic. Aflatoxin exposure is more deadly than exposure to malaria or tuberculosis, with 40% of all liver cancers in Africa being related to it. Mycotoxin contamination can occur through inadequate food storage, but more importantly, it occurs in the absence of the correct crop protection measures, including chemicals.

In modern agriculture, we prevent most of the exposure to mycotoxins by using fungicides. However, chemical crop protection products have been seen with increasingly critical eyes. All too often, those calling for bans of XYZ chemical pretend that farmers ought just use “an alternative”, but all too regularly these alternatives do not exist, or have, as with the example of genetic engineering, been outlawed already.

Gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 can help solve farm safety concerns such as the ones raised by fungi. Fungal pathogens, such as Fusarium proliferatum, which attacks diverse crops, including wheat, maize, rice, asparagus, date palm, garlic, onion, can be studied and better understood using this technology. In the case of Fusarium oxysporum, which befalls both plants and animals, gene-editing can disrupt the genes of interests. A different method of genetic engineering, known as gene-silencing (arrived to through a method known as RNA interference), can create aflatoxin-free transgenic maize. Particularly for developing nations, this would mark a breakthrough improvement of consumer health and food security.

However, if the European Union keeps its current legislation on genetic engineering, and goes even further by exporting these rules and regulations to development aid partners in Africa, then these innovations will not be of use to consumers domestic and abroad. In order to tap into the potential of the gene-revolution, we need to change outdated legislation and Europe and usher in a new century of biotechnology.

We owe it to ourselves.

Gene-editing innovations can save us (if we let it)

2020 marked a first in the history of the Nobel Prize. For the first since its creation, a science Nobel Prize has been awarded to two women. Jenifer Doudna from the University of California, and Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, for the development of CRISPR-Cas9. The gene-editing method revolutionises the scientific understanding and practice of working with genetics, and has widespread applications in the fields of medicine and agriculture.

Together with the Genetic Literacy Project, the CCC released the first Gene-editing Regulation Index, that shows how the world compares in its regulation on gene-editing. Unfortunately, we see that regions such as Europe have, through outdated legislation, limited their ability to innovate.

Let’s take a look at three recent innovations in the realm of gene-editing.

Gene-edited trees

Researchers at the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology in Belgium, together with researchers at the University of Wisconsin have discovered, through CRISPR-Cas9, a method of reducing the amount of lignin in trees, which eases the process of making paper. This would reduce the carbon footprint of the paper industry, as well as for the production of bio-fuels and bio-based materials. 

The communication from the entrepreneurial non-profit research institute VIB, which works in close partnership with five universities in Flanders, Belgium — Ghent University, KU Leuven, University of Antwerp, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Hasselt University — also says: “The applications of this method are not only restricted to lignin but might also be useful to engineer other traits in crops, providing a versatile new breeding tool to improve agricultural productivity.”

Gene-edited salmon

Researchers at the Norwegian institute Nofima are investigating whether CRISPR-Cas9 can help reduce or completely squash the prevalence of sea lice in Atlantic salmon. It is known that North American salmon does not deal with sea lice, thus the scientists are trying to replicate the phenomenon through genetic engineering.

If successful, this does not imply that gene-edited fish will be available immediately, as there are still a lot of procedural and regulatory hurdles to overcome. That said, making Atlantic salmon immune to lice would mean more efficient fishing in European waters, and more affordable salmon for European consumers.

Gene-editing against opioid overdoses

With tens of thousands of people dying each year of opioid overdoses, Professor of Pharmacology at Oklahoma State University Craig Stevens writes that it doesn’t have to be that way. Using CRISPR-Cas9, he claims that gene-editing a patient’s brain would prevent opioids bind opioid receptors on respiratory neurons — in plain English: during an opioid overdose, the patient dies because he or she stops breathing. Through gene-editing the brains of 10% of opioid patients, Stevens claims that the United States could save thousands of lives and save $43 billion.

Trump’s drug import plan will make us all pay

Make Canada Great Again?

Believe it or not, that’s what is at the center of President Donald Trump’s latest executive order aimed at trying to lower the cost of prescription drugs for Americans.

Trump’s plan, dubbed the “Most-Favored-Nation-Price” model, would effectively import price controls on pharmaceuticals from other nations with single-payer, government-run health systems, including Canada.

With this order, Trump will force Medicare to pay the same negotiated rates as other countries that don’t have the same level of innovation or access to medicines as the U.S

That means that while drug prices for certain seniors will be lower in the short term, it will mean higher costs in the long-term, jeopardizing future drug development, and access. And that will be bad for every American, not to mention our retirees on Medicare.

As an example, modern drug development requires not only massive investment but also time and the ability to experiment through trial and error. Only one of every 5,000-10,000 substances synthesized will make it successfully through all stages of product development to become an approved drug. That’s a big risk and one that only pays off if these drugs can be sold and used. 

Many projects fail to bring even one drug to market. Investing in life sciences requires a healthy risk appetite, and therefore an incentive scheme that rewards those able to create value is necessary. 

By the time a medical drug reaches the regular patient, an average of 12.5 years will have elapsed since the first discovery of the new active substance. The total investment needed to get to one active substance that can be accessed by a patient is around $2 billion. And that is just for medicines we already know we need.

There are over 10,000 known diseases in the world but approved treatment for merely 500 of them. It may be easy to dictate lower prices for these medicines, but that will mean that drug developers will not have the same means to invest in research for the remaining 95% of diseases we cannot yet cure.

Added to that, the U.S. can count on access to all sorts of innovative medicines because of our innovators and inventors.

By forcing lower prescription drug prices for our elderly, Trump seems eager to harm our ability to find cures for those who still hope for the development of a cure for their untreatable diseases and future access to the medicines we need.

Such a move may play well in voter rich Florida, with a large population of seniors anxious about drug prices, but it shatters the unique mix of both innovation and entrepreneurship that leads the U.S. to be the world’s top creator and supplier of badly-needed drugs. Half of the top pharmaceutical companies in the world are headquartered in our country, and for good reason.

Trump, for his part, claims that this will stop “free-riding” from other nations on the US’ relatively high drug prices. And that is indeed a concern that touches many of us. But such a rash plan will put a chokehold on innovation across the entire sector of our drug industry.

If Trump wants other countries to “pay their fair share” on drug prices, the best method is by trade agreements and negotiation, not by emulating anti-innovation policies from other nations.

To achieve cheaper drug prices, there are simpler and cheaper ways to tackle this.

For one, the president should be open to a reform of the Food and Drug Administration. Too much time is lost trying to get drugs approved across every industrialized country. If we recognized drug approvals from all other countries in the OECD, this would lower costs and accelerate the pace of bringing drugs to the US market.

We cannot risk our entire drug infrastructure for the hope of short-term lower costs. If the Trump administration wants our nation to remain a shining beacon of innovation and allows its patients to access state-of-the-art medicine, we should not import bad policies from abroad.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.

In the midst of an energy crisis, California to ban gas vehicles

With the stroke of a pen, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order this week banning the sale of emissions-producing cars by the year 2035.

Effectively, this means no gas-powered cars will be for sale in the nation’s most populous state in less than 15 years. It’s not only the most populous state but the state with the most cars overall.

If the 15 million cars registered in California were their own country, they’d be the 73rd largest by population.

That means no prospect for a 2035 Camaro, Mustang, or even Honda Civic powered by gasoline on the streets of California in the near future.

Newson says climate change is why this moratorium is needed. Heatwaves, wildfires, and faltering energy supply to millions of Californians.

IMPACT ON YOU AND ME

How will this impact ordinary consumers?

This ban is concerning for two reasons.

First, California’s market is the largest in the United States. That means any and all legislation they make impacts consumer products sold across the country. We’ll call that the California Spillover Effect.

No manufacturer wants to design or create items to sell at scale across the entire nation only to have to retool them for California. That means many larger suppliers decide to comply with California’s burdensome regulations as a rule. That’s without the say of the populations and legislatures of other states, even if the laws are unconstitutional and economically backward.

(Many officials are already stating the order will be easily struck down by the EPA or the courts)

It is a fact that, over time, our cars are getting more efficient. Engineers and scientists are combining different elements to maximize fuel efficiency in internal combustion vehicles in order to reduce emissions, lower costs, and provide better cars for drivers.

This has been a market and consumer-led revolution. Consumers demand more efficient cars that won’t force them to the gas pump every two days.

Those preferences have signaled to carmakers that they need to provide quality vehciles with better gas mileage and they have delivered. In most cases, the mileage efficiency goes beyond the mandates imposed by California and the EPA in Washington.

Regardless, with an executive order outlawing gas-powered cars, that means California drivers will be forced to switch to using electric cars wholesale. That will mean much higher prices that many people just won’t be able to afford. That will harm lower-income individuals who still depend on transportation by car for their work and home lives.

What the state of California is effectively doing here is endorsing a particular technology — electric vehicles — that may even be obslete by 2035.

This rebukes the principle of technology neutrality, the idea that the government should not pick winners and losers in the tech sphere. Not only will there be better and more efficient solutions by the year 2035, but government has a poor track record of defining which technological solutions will win consumer favor in the end.

AN ENERGY CRISIS AND FALSE SOLUTIONS

This is also concerning because California is in the midst of an energy crisis. Rolling blackouts are the norm, large wildfires threaten electricity infrastructure, and persistent water mismanagement has led to many areas with less than adequate water supply.

Energy policy that can provide stable power to millions of homes is a challenge in California, and a mandate to switch the entire vehicle fleet to electric will put even more pressure on energy supplies, driving up costs for ordinary consumers who may not even own electric cars in the future.

There is no question that electric cars are more economical on the road, but they are also less reliable for longer drives, maintenance, and will still depend on the fossil fuel economy for electric charges.

Most, if not all, electric cars draw their power from the energy grid, we’re still relying on coal power to provide energy for the charge. That’s anything but an environmental panacea.

Further, the resources needed to build and power electric cars, including the mining of precious minerals, still contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

By the time an electric vehicle has rolled off the assembly line, it has already been responsible for more than 25,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, more than twice that of a traditional internal combustion vehicle.

As political scientist and economic Bjorn Lomborg explains in the video below, over the lifetime of a modern electric car, it will only be responsible for three to five tons less of CO2, including production, energy consumption, and scrapping.

(Also check out our interview with Bjorn Lomborg on Consumer Choice Radio on all things environmental policy and smart solutions for the world)

If California wants to reduce emissions, there are consumer-friendly ways to do so.

Reforming zoning laws to encourage development and reduce the need to commute long distances for workers and consumers is one step.

Encouraging innovation by entrepreneurs to come up with alternative fuels is another. And so is the embrace of nuclear technology, fracking for natural gas, and Compressed Natural Gas as a fuel for public transportation and governmental fleet vehicles, as is done in other countries.

The path toward a cleaner and more prosperous planet is not through bans, restrictions, and piecemeal technology ensorsements. It’s through innovation, consumer demand, and creative solutions.

Nigeria’s Alcohol ban is an attack on consumers’ freedom, small business owners

Nigeria’s ban on alcohol recently made the rounds in the news on local media outlets. The announcement disclosed in a statement by the National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) director-general, Prof. Christianah Mojisola Adeyeye, stated that the Federal government had issued directives targeted at phasing out the sale and consumption of alcohol in sachets and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. This means that the regulatory agency will no longer register new products in sachet and small volume PET or glass bottles above 30 per cent Alcohol by Volume (ABV) and also mandated alcohol companies to drive down production by at least 50% enforceable for January 31, 2020. This article highlights the effect of the ban on small business owners and the limitation to the freedom of consumer choice. 

This partial ban on alcohol seems to only be targeted at a specific set of people – Low income earners. The dominant consumers of alcohol in sachets and small bottles are low income earners, just as the predominant retailers of alcohol in this packaging are small businesses who own small kiosks or even hawk their wares. In fact, the reason big companies often go the route of selling alcohol in sachets and small packs is because that is the only way low income earners can afford them. Shutting out this access is in fact seeking to erase the end of one market. This prohibitionist approach effectively cuts off many low-income earners from participating in the alcohol market. This is likely to cause economically disadvantaged people to buy alcohol in excess of what their finances ordinarily allow as affordable options are being taken out of the market. It essentially signals to low income earners to buy more alcohol since the only option they are left with is to buy alcohol in bigger packaging. Also, by making the sale of alcohol in sachets illegal, there is also the possibility of certain individuals taking advantage of the demand for sachet alcohol by illegally apportioning alcohol in sachets and other smaller containers under potentially unhygienic conditions.

Beyond the suffocation of economic activities at the base of the pyramid, an outright ban conflicts with the freedom of consumers to choose and the importance of markets, this is another example of the Nigerian government’s overarching involvement in the choices of Nigerians. The agency had highlighted that uncontrolled access and availability of high concentration alcohol contribute to substance and alcohol abuse in Nigeria transitioning into a negative impact in the society. One of the best approaches to curbing substance use has been used in the tobacco industry. Without banning its usage, members of the public are made aware of the consequences of tobacco use and allowed to make their own decisions. 


The Nigerian government has become increasingly overreaching in its responsibilities by taking away decisions that should ideally be left to consumers. Usually, when a group of people make decisions for others, they do this with their own bias and without much knowledge of the motives of the eventual consumers. The truth is that consumers are usually aware of the risks and benefits associated with products they use before consumption. However, the most ideal approach should be to make any new information about certain products publicly available so that consumers can have more information that can help them make informed decisions. Due to the absence of a perfect product, consumers often always juxtapose the risks and benefits associated with each product they consume with alternatives available. While certain persons will embrace certain risks, others are less likely to do so or may simply choose preferable risks. Banning products reduces the alternatives for users, limiting the available solutions to their problems as everyone who makes a purchase of an item is looking to solve an important problem.

Banning the sale of alcohol as well as instructing companies to deliberately lower their production below their capacities and operate at 50 percent efficiency irrespective of market demand is detrimental to an economy. It is also a direct affront on the freedoms that consumers should have in an open market. 

How to feed 11 billion people?

If the EU wants to fight global hunger, it needs to stop food elitism.

Safeguarding IP rights is key to defeating COVID-19

COVID-19 has exposed our unpreparedness for a crisis of global scope. As much as globalisation is partly to blame for the virus’ speedy expansion, it is also thanks to the interconnectedness of our world that we have been able to preserve international trade – despite a bundle of constraints and cries for protectionism – during these tough times. In particular, that has to do with exports of essential medical devices such as masks, ventilators, personal protective equipment. The shortages experienced by many countries have triggered an intergovernmental discussion on the scope of compulsory licencing and IP protection covered by The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). 

As a global consumer advocacy group, we at the Consumer Choice Center are hereby sharing our perspective on the matter in the hope to contribute to this timely debate. 

The TRIPS agreement is an integral part of the World Trade Organisation’s intellectual property legal base. Among other things, the agreement whose primary aim is to safeguard intellectual property rights, also includes provisions on compulsory licencing, or use of subject matter of a patent without the authorisation of the right holder (Article 31). Essentially, this means that “in the case of a national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency or in cases of public non-commercial use,” a Member government may allow someone else to produce a patented product or process without the consent of the patent owner. 

Whereas, under normal circumstances, the person or company applying for a licence must have first attempted, unsuccessfully, to obtain a voluntary licence from the right holder on reasonable commercial terms (Article 31b). However, there is no need to try for a voluntary licence first under TRIPS flexibilities.

TRIPS flexibilities, therefore, allow countries to override global IP rules to mitigate the damage caused by an emergency and have been mainly applied where pharmaceuticals have been concerned. 

In July, South Africa issued a communication titled “Beyond Access to Medicines and Medical Technologies Towards a More Holistic Approach to TRIPS Flexibilities.”  It was pointed out that the COVID-19 response required looking beyond patents towards a more “integrated approach to TRIPS flexibilities that include other various types of intellectual property (IP) rights including copyrights, industrial designs and trade secrets” (IP/C/W/666). As such, the recommendations submitted by South Africa are cross-field as they also touch upon the production and distribution of essential medical devices such as masks, ventilators, personal protective equipment.

Though proposed out of the noble motives, South African communication is ignorant of the need to protect IP rights instead of eroding them. Opponents of intellectual property rights often make the mistake of taking innovation for granted thereby turning a blind eye to the driving force of every kind of entrepreneurship: economic incentives. Patents and various other forms of intellectual property are not biased towards the inventor. On the contrary, they ensure that companies can continue to innovate and deliver on their products to consumers. 

The short-term result of eroding intellectual property rights would be increased access to innovations, but in the long-term, there would be no innovation. With the second wave of coronavirus on the way putting brakes on the economic recovery, it is not something we can afford.

In fact, we need to stay as firm as ever in our defence of intellectual property rights if we want to defeat coronavirus and many more diseases. Patients who may one day be diagnosed with incurable diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Cystic Fibrosis, Diabetes, or HIV/AIDS should benefit from the chance that a cure will become available, and protecting IP is the only way to give them that chance. If we act boldly now and weaken intellectual property rights even further – and expand the scope of TRIPS flexibilities – we will cause the damage that will be hardly reversible, and the post-pandemic world will have to foot the bill.

As the former Czech Prime Minister, Jan Fischer pointed out, “Patents and other intellectual property protections enshrine the incentives that compel drug companies to take such extraordinary risks. By temporarily barring copycat products, the rules give innovators an opportunity to try and recoup their huge development costs. A substantial portion of the revenues achieved from the sale of those innovative drugs are dedicated to fund new projects, and enable the pursuit of path-breaking R&D in the first place.”

If we want more prosperity for all, we need to protect intellectual property rights. TRIPS flexibilities, and the call to extend their scope beyond patens, in particular, are an attempt to erode IP, and should be seen for what they really are: a threat to our economic recovery from COVID-19 and future innovation.

By Maria Chaplia, European Affairs Associate at the Consumer Choice Center

Implementing Virtual Affidavits

Manitoba’s Law Reform Commission Recommends Implementing Virtual Affidavits

After working closely with the Attorney General’s office in Ontario to bring forward virtual commissioning of legal documents via tele-conference, the CCC’s David Clement was asked to consult with Manitoba’s Law Reform Commission

Specifically, Manitoba was looking for guidance on how they could modernize their legal system and enact similar changes.

On August 31st, the Law Reform Commission released their report, where they made the suggestion that Manitoba should in fact move forward with modernizing their legal system by allowing affidavits to be taken virtually via video-conference.

The Commission acknowledged the CCC in the following way: 

The Commission gratefully acknowledges the following individuals for providing valuable feedback on this project: David Clement, North American Affairs Manager- Consumer Choice Center

The Commission officially made the following recommendation:

The Commission recommends that section 64(1) of The Manitoba Evidence Act be amended to remove the requirement that an oath, affirmation or statutory declaration be taken only in the presence of a person and to enable affidavits to be taken remotely using video-conferencing technology. (p 15)

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