Hill urged to flex piracy muscles

Labor, management support for Pro IP act of 'war'

Proponents of tougher intellectual property protection laws urged Congress on Thursday to issue a "declaration of war" against the freebooters.

During a hearing examining legislation known as the Pro IP Act, industry and labor called on lawmakers to ratchet up the fight against infringement, contending that it is necessary to save U.S. jobs and economic strength.

"The Pro IP Act is a needed declaration of war, escalating the priority of this vital public policy by deploying dedicated enforcement resources to the battle," NBC executive vp and general counsel Rick Cotton said.

Cotton holds a day job as one of NBC's top executives, but he has been spending a great deal of time as chairman of the Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-led organization that includes most of the nation's leading intellectual property companies, ranging from automobile parts makers and pharmaceutical firms to film studios.

While big business wants the legislation to pass, it also has the support of big labor as Teamsters president Jim Hoffa also told lawmakers the bill is a necessary step.

"Some people might think it's no big deal to buy a knockoff handbag or fake DVD, but it is," Hoffa said. "These crimes kill jobs — good jobs that my union has fought to protect for more than a hundred years."

Hoffa told the members of the House Judiciary Committee's intellectual property subcommittee that about 370,000 jobs in the American entertainment industry are lost every year as a result of the lost revenue from pirated and counterfeited media.

While the Pro IP bill has the backing of both labor and business, it is not without its critics, who are concerned that some provisions may go too far. A "compilation" provision that would allow judges to count each song bootlegged from a single album as a separate offense brought out the ire of fair-use advocates.

"Increasing damages this way will have a severe chilling effect on legitimate uses of copyrighted works and on innovation," said Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, a non-profit advocacy group.

The compilation provision is being pushed by the record industry, which has been hardest hit by piracy.

Generally the legislation creates a copyright "czar" within the White House and sets tougher statutory penalties for copyright infringement; it expands the forfeiture provisions, allowing the feds to seize property used in counterfeiting operations; appoints intellectual property officers to work with foreign countries in their efforts to combat counterfeiting and piracy; and authorizes the creation of a permanent Intellectual Property Division within the Department of Justice.

While American industrial and labor might back the bill, the administration and the Justice Department appear to be less than thrilled about bringing in a copyright czar or reorganizing the department.

Sigal Mandelker, the department's criminal division chief, told lawmakers that the system they have in place was working just fine.

"We are always going to be concerned about someone in the White House directing cases we should or shouldn't pursue," she said. "That's contrary to the long-standing custom at the Department of Justice."

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the intellectual property subcommittee, told The Reporter that he was confident he could work out the differences.

"My feeling is that we will move it through Congress, not this year, but during the next session," he said. "Our goal is to get it through this Congress."

While the bill has strong bipartisan support and the support of the full committee chairman Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., there are some members who questioned it.

"I think it would go more towards Americans than those in other countries who are responsible for the tsunami of counterfeit goods entering this country," said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.

But Conyers said that is not the case.

"This bill is important in the fight to maintain our edge in the global marketplace," he said. "Contrary to what is being said on the Internet, this bill is for the American people, not some interest group."