By Andrew Feinberg, Deputy Editor, BroadbandBreakfast.com; and Eli Evans, Reporter-Researcher, BroadbandBreakfast.com
WASHINGTON, December 16, 2009 - The U.S. is committed to an inter-agency process for combating piracy of American intellectual property, Vice President Joseph Biden said Tuesday during a press availability with top law enforcement officials.
Appearing at the White House complex with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, the directors of the FBI, Customs and Border Protection, and the United States Secret Service, as well as the chief executives of the nation's largest entertainment companies.
The meeting was followed by a closed-door, roundtable discussion on international intellectual property theft.
That second meeting brought together more than 20 high-ranking government officials and entertainment industry leaders in seeking solutions to the problem of piracy.
While Biden acknowledged the efforts of past administrations and programs, “The truth of the matter is that the problem has gotten worse,” he said. “Intellectual piracy is costing this country...billions of dollars and thousands of jobs," Biden told the assembled executives.
The problem is likely to worsen without better inter-agency coordination and a sharp federal focus on the problem, he said, referring back to his days as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee: “It offends me that we … treat it as if it’s a mild irritant," Biden said. "It’s theft - Flat unadulterated theft.”
The issue is no longer a minor one, said Attorney General Eric Holder. American industries "depend on intellectual property rights" and the enforcement of them, Holder said. The Obama administration will not tolerate [intellectual property] theft of any kind, Holder said.
And both Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke promised the full weight of their departmentss behind Biden's initiative, with Napolitano bringing the power of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the United States Secret Service to bear on copyright infringers to supplement the investigative and enforcement efforts of the FBI.
Intellectual property crime is going to get the same kind of focus at the Justice Department as the closing of Guantanamo Bay and ordinary street crime, said Holder.
But “this is not a problem the United States can by itself solve,” Holder conceded. “We need to work with international partners, who also need to confront... those nations where to0 much of this [piracy] occurs," he declared.
The U.S. will place emphasis on shoring up international enforcement efforts with existing relationships, and by new commitments like the forthcoming Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, Holder said. By working with other nations, the U.S. can better target the large scale operations that are often the most serious – operations often based from within the borders of other nations.
Holder cited as a recent success of this new strategy the fruits of a series of raids around the U.S. and in Mexico. Relying on cooperation from the Mexican government, U.S. law enforcement seized 780,000 items, including 54,000 CDs and DVDs valued at more than $26 million.
This cooperative effort is not only admirable, but effective. Biden said, adding that such thinking motivated Tuesday’s meeting. It was an opportunity to have “all the major players in one place, in one room, with one overall, overarching strategy how to better deal with what is a serious, serious problem facing our country.”
But not all players were at the meeting, according to some consumer groups, who noted the absence of technology companies and representation of artists – the creators of intellectual property itself.
Such an omission speaks to a bias in favor of "big media," critics said in numerous statements released Tuesday. “No consumer or public-interest groups, technology companies, technology associations or Internet service providers are on the guest list," said Public Knowledge founder and president Gigi Sohn.
"No one who questions the need for draconian governmental policies on behalf of the privileged special interest group for whom this meeting is being held is on the guest list," Sohn pointed out.
"If Vice President Biden is truly interested in learning more about intellectual property, we hope he will continue his consultations with a group of people who share a wider range of views than those with whom he will meet today."
Editor’s Note: Broadband Census News is planning to hold a special event, “Net Neutrality, Copyright Protection, and the National Broadband Plan Town Hall Meeting,” on January 19, 2010, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. (program from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.), at Clyde’s of Gallery Place. To register for the event, which includes breakfast from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. To register, click here.