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Demonstrators protest vaccine apartheid

Protestors hold placards during a demonstration in support of waiving patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines on November 30, 2021. (Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

Nearly 300 Artists, Celebrities Demand Hollywood End 'Disturbing' Support for Big Pharma's Vaccine Monopolies

"It is absurd that some of the associations that claim to represent creators' interests are instead fighting for Big Pharma."

Jake Johnson

More than 275 artists, celebrities, and other creative professionals have signed on to an open letter endorsing a patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines and slamming the "flimsy" arguments made by industry lobbyists defending the global intellectual property regime, which has fueled massive inequities in vaccine access.

Signed by actor Mark Ruffalo, author and filmmaker Naomi Klein, producer Lilly Wachowski, poet Anindita Sengupta, and hundreds of others, the letter expresses dismay that prominent film, publishing, and music associations have joined Big Pharma in lobbying against a World Trade Organization proposal that would temporarily suspend patents covering Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics.

"We fear that these groups will continue to lobby in our names to hinder this urgent process upon which many of our livelihoods depend."

The Intercept reported earlier this year that "the Motion Picture Association, which represents major movie and television studios, deployed five lobbyists to influence Congress and the White House over the waiver. The Association of American Publishers as well as Universal Music have similarly revealed that they are actively lobbying against it."

"Industry sources say the lobbyists are concerned that the waiver will be too broad in scope and could open the door for increased piracy," The Intercept noted. "But the copyright industry push relates to a provision of the proposal that would waive copyright enforcement for the 'prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19.'"

In the new open letter, creators write that industry interests are "using false arguments based on copyright laws for our creative works" to prevent the sharing of "lifesaving treatment with countries in need."

"We fear that these groups will continue to lobby in our names to hinder this urgent process upon which many of our livelihoods depend," the letter reads. "Sharing lifesaving technology will not harm musicians, actors, writers, or other creative professionals. In fact, it will save many of us who live in countries throughout the world, while also allowing us to once again travel, perform, and share our creative work with the world. It is absurd that some of the associations that claim to represent creators' interests are instead fighting for Big Pharma."

"In solidarity with billions of people around the world," the letter continues, "we demand that representatives from artist and creator associations immediately stop any lobbying efforts to weaken, delay, or disrupt the Covid-19 TRIPS waiver at the WTO."

The updated "No Covid in Our Name" letter was released days after the WTO postponed its biannual Ministerial Conference following the detection of the Omicron variant, which public health campaigners argue is a predictable result of entrenched vaccine apartheid.

Supporters of the vaccine patent waiver, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), are calling on the WTO to approve the proposal immediately despite the postponement of the conference.

Lia Holland, campaigns and communications director at Fight for the Future—one of the groups that helped organize the letter—said in a statement Thursday that "it's extremely disturbing to see organizations that purport to represent the interests of creators acting in such stark opposition to the health, safety, and business interests of the entertainment and creative industries."

"While pharmaceutical companies stand to profit from desperation-fueled pricing the longer the pandemic stretches," Holland added, "creators can only lose in a world where we can’t gather to enjoy and celebrate their art."

Read the full letter:

To all associations and individuals who oppose sharing lifesaving pandemic technology:

You do not represent us.

Access to Covid-19 vaccines, treatment, and testing is a defining human rights crisis of this century. We applaud global leaders who are speaking up to save lives. As Senator Bernie Sanders said, countless lives must come before pharmaceutical company profits.

Thanks to the hard work of a global campaign, and despite pressure from Big Pharma, the U.S. entered negotiations to share lifesaving technologies in May. We are appalled that major film, publishing, and music associations tried to stop this from happening. These groups discouraged the US from sharing lifesaving treatment with countries in need, using false arguments based on copyright laws for our creative works. We fear that these groups will continue to lobby in our names to hinder this urgent process upon which many of our livelihoods depend.

We are joining the following groups that support quick action on a World Trade Organization (WTO) waiver that allows sharing of Covid-19 related health technologies: a coalition of over 100 countries; the majority of House Democrats; frontline labor unions like National Nurses United, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, and the American Federation of Teachers; and hundreds of internationally recognized organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the ACLU.

Everyone must receive access as soon as possible to the knowledge and tools that will save lives from Covid-19: from vaccines and ventilators to medical technology, designs, and knowledge. Without an emergency waiver at the WTO of the intellectual property rights that block sharing these resources, many countries may not receive meaningful access to Covid-19 vaccines until as late as 2024—if at all. This is unacceptable. We need to immediately share knowledge and technology before devastating new variants kill even more people.

Sharing lifesaving technology will not harm musicians, actors, writers, or other creative professionals. In fact, it will save many of us who live in countries throughout the world, while also allowing us to once again travel, perform, and share our creative work with the world. It is absurd that some of the associations that claim to represent creators’ interests are instead fighting for Big Pharma. To be clear, the proposed waiver text will not harm creators. The waiver never targeted creators, and the latest draft has further clarified that it is only for health products and technologies. The proposal will waive intellectual property protections only for the prevention, containment, and treatment of Covid-19. The waiver does not impact creative works such as music, films, and books in any way. We fully support waivers on all four provisions of intellectual property that will help end the pandemic, because each provision is essential to stop Covid-19. Waiving patent rights alone cannot save lives if the design and knowledge to use them is not shared too.

In solidarity with billions of people around the world, we demand that representatives from artist and creator associations immediately stop any lobbying efforts to weaken, delay or disrupt the Covid-19 TRIPS Waiver at the WTO.


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