To Crown a Copyright Czar

Filmmakers, pharma companies, and a host of legislators want beefed-up U.S. efforts to combat counterfeit goods and pirated entertainment

Corporate America wants to bring in bigger guns in its battle against counterfeit drugs and pirated songs and DVDs. So a coalition of legislators and companies is pushing for the appointment of a White House-based copyright czar.

Congress should establish an Intellectual Property Enforcement Representative, say some drugmakers, music companies, and filmmakers represented by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The federal official would work from the White House and coordinate efforts of some nine departments, including the Justice Dept., State Dept., and Patent & Trademark Office, in combating the theft of intellectual property.

The push to crown a copyright czar underscores companies’ mounting frustration with intellectual-property (IP) theft in its various forms, including fake pharmaceuticals, imported counterfeit goods, copyright infringement, and illegal music and movie downloads. Legislators say existing efforts to thwart IP theft fall short. “The lack of coordination between the federal agencies seems to be one of the biggest hurdles we face,” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said at a June 17 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing focused on strengthening protection of intellectual property. “Enforcement, protection of these rights is too important to be piecemeal.”

Growing Bilateral Support
Leahy, the chairman of the committee, is drafting a bill that may include a provision for the copyright czar. He’s expected to finish the draft within a month, and given rising bilateral support, the legislation could be passed as soon as this year. Leahy’s bill is likely to resemble the one for Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (PRO-IP), which dramatically increases penalties for piracy and allocates more dedicated IP enforcement officers to government agencies. The PRO-IP bill also includes the creation of a copyright czar and was passed by the House in May.

Other efforts are afoot to strengthen the government’s hand in combating IP theft. Earlier this year, Senator Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) introduced a bill specifically seeking the creation of a copyright czar. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is at work on his own bill, designed to ensure that counterfeit goods, estimated to cost the U.S. economy 750,000 jobs and $250 billion annually, are caught at customs.

The federal government already has a person responsible for enforcing IP regulations. The U.S. has had a Coordinator for International Intellectual Property Enforcement since 2004. The most recent appointee, Wayne Paugh, was put in place by President George W. Bush on June 5. Under Paugh’s predecessor, Chris Israel, the government seized nearly $200 million in counterfeit goods last fiscal year, up 27% from a year earlier, according to a government report. Over the same period, 287 people were sentenced for IP-related crimes, up 35%.

MPAA Favors Better Enforcement
Trouble is, the coordinator oversees a budget of about $1 million and his National Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordination Council functions under the auspices of the Commerce Dept., not the White House. “The current structures have not produced the needed levels of coordination and leadership,” says Rick Cotton, general counsel for NBC Universal, which is owned by General Electric (GE) and Vivendi. “Counterfeiting and piracy severely undercut future growth of the U.S. economy. Our current enforcement efforts are inadequate.”

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[Learn: Businessweek]