IP Plan May Have Pirates Walking the Plank

Jun 18, 2010

America has a well-deserved reputation for creating and producing the most cutting-edge forms of entertainment, high technology, and consumer goods in the world.  We have earned this distinction thanks in large measure to the ingenuity, hard work, and “can do” spirit that have marked our society for generations. 

Also critical to this success, however, is the fact that Americans’ ideas have long been safeguarded by strong intellectual property (IP) protections, what we know as copyrights, patents and trademarks.  These rights, which cover IP ranging from movies, music and software, to shoes, medicines, and computers, are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, thanks to the foresight of our Founding Fathers.

Not surprisingly, because of the great value that America’s IP-intensive industry bring to our economy—well over $5 trillion at last count—criminal organizations around the globe, and a number of countries as well, are trying to steal our “creations of the mind” for their own gain.  The United States’ creative community, whether known through Hollywood movies, New York publishing houses, or Nashville studios for example, is undoubtedly the world leader in entertainment and a tragic case in point.  The recently released 2010 Watch List by the International Congressional Anti-Piracy Caucus shows that the ideas and products of America’s artists and creators are increasingly at risk from online piracy.   

Online piracy, or the digital theft of movies, music, books and other content, is a job-killing crime. Studies by the Institute for Policy Innovation estimate that every year global music piracy leads to a loss of over 71,000 jobs, $12.5 billion in economic growth, and $2.7 billion in workers' earnings. The U.S. entertainment software industry estimated losses of over $3 billion in 2007 due to piracy. And piracy contributed to a loss of $18.2 billion in the global film industry in 2005.  These numbers will only get exponentially worse as Internet access expands and broadband speeds increase. 

If left unchecked, digital theft ultimately hurts all workers in the creative industries—from actors and writers to electricians, musicians, sound technicians, caterers, and stage crew workers. These criminal activities also affect those hard-working Americans in the legal distribution channels—such as the folks who work at ticket booths, shopping malls, book outlets, and video stores.  In short, the entire eco-system for books, movies, software and other content is harmed. 

So what can be done to address a problem that grows virulently, is becoming more sophisticated, and is aided by an Internet culture of “online = no crime”?  How can we improve a virtual marketplace where the “real world” rules against theft and shoplifting don’t seem to apply, or at least aren’t enforced?

The first step is to ensure our law enforcement agencies have the authorities, staff, and resources needed to crack down on the growing tide of IP theft online.  Congress can help on this front through its annual appropriations process, and by passing legislation to support enforcement activities. 

Second, the administration needs to finalize a pending Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) with nearly forty other countries.  A robust and comprehensive ACTA will help raise the bar against counterfeiting and piracy, and improve cooperation among the countries involved.

Third, the White House needs to release and begin implementing the country’s first-ever National IP Enforcement Strategy.   The plan, which is being developed by the new U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, is expected to be delivered to Congress this month.  This government-wide strategy promises to advance IP enforcement efforts by synchronizing and intensifying the work of various federal agencies in ways that will surely protect jobs and revitalize our economy.

When it comes to digital piracy in particular, a real difference can be made here; these steps can be game-changers.  An enhanced federal effort should aim to shut down “rogue” websites that are knowingly and willfully selling or distributing stolen content.  Publicly identifying these sites would also assist the private sector in doing its share to address this devastating problem.  We should also press for prosecuting these pirates and taking other actions that will put them out of business.

Key to this is Congress embracing this new strategy with the seriousness and urgency it has with other issues of such great national import.  The House and Senate should carefully review the plan, work with the White House and industry to fine tune it, and then take the proper steps to implement this strategy.   It cannot gather dust on a bookshelf. The problems of counterfeiting and piracy, and online theft in particular, are too large to ignore, and their impacts are destructive in many, many ways.  

This summer, as the movie season kicks off and critics gear up for the season’s blockbusters, we know for sure that online pirates are also gearing up to steal the creations of hard working Americans.  Too often, and increasingly so, creative people are investing a good deal of time, effort, and money to produce great works of art, only to see pirates steal the goods—be they movies, music, books or software—and then sell it to others for their own profit. 

The Global Intellectual Property Center is currently working to identify and list many of these “rogue” websites, with the intention of shining light on their illegal activities. The information we gather will then be shared with federal authorities to help enhance their enforcement efforts to crack down on these job-killing crimes. It is our hope that our work on compiling these notorious sites will complement the upcoming National IP Enforcement Strategy, and will help spur a new government wide effort to stop online piracy.  American ingenuity, the production of new forms of entertainment, and the job creation and economic growth that both bring, cannot survive long if online theft is allowed to continue the way it has for far too long.

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