WASHINGTON, September 15, 2010 - The Intellectual Property Breakfast Club on Tuesday brought together a wide range of stake holders to discuss whether the Obama administration's intellectual property czar will crush internet piracy.
Internet piracy has become a major, global economic issue. Last year, the Obama administration named Victoria Espinel to the post of U.S. intellectual property enforcement coordinator, a role more commonly referred to as the IP czar. The post's mandate may sound straightforward, but it is fraught with complications, panelists agreed. The official mandate states that the IP czar must coordinate federal agency efforts in regards to intellectual property and to set up a plan with the goal of better enforcing intellectual property rights both domestically and internationally. A big part of that includes stepped up efforts to crack down on the international trafficking of counterfeit goods. Espinel released a report on the administration's plans this June.
Steve Tepp, senior director, internet counterfeiting and piracy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Intellectual Property Center, emphasized that intellectual property not only includes digital products, but also covers physical products that have found their way into the government’s supply chain. Tepp offered a hypothetical example of a counterfeit microchip potentially installed in a Black Hawk helicopter and creating a malfunction.
Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, commended the initial report issued by Espinel, stating that it was moderate and well thought out. However, Sohn noted that it does not have financial backing like the National Broadband Plan enjoys and so should require an additional appropriation from Congress.
Stevan Mitchell, vice president of intellectual property policy with the Entertainment Software Alliance, also commended Espinel. He lauded her office for not trying to develop wholly new policies but seeking to develop better methods of enforcing current regulations.
Additionally, he highlighted how YouTube now works with the Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America to determine if videos with copyrighted content should be removed or left on the site with ads. Predominantly, the copyright holders are willing to leave the work on the site as long as they can put ads on it and monetize, he said.
Casey Rae-Hunter, communications director and policy strategist with the Future of Music Coalition, urged that any new proposed legislation must not only protect the big players but also start-ups. Hunter said if a single system of technological watermarking or tagging can be developed, multiple market places can offer digital content and flourish.
Hunter and Sohn both warned about using internet service providers as “copyright cops.” Sohn cautioned that it would cause great harm to fair use. "Many judges have a difficult time determining what is fair use, a computer program would find it near impossible,” she said. Hunter emphasized that mass monitoring of networks would cause privacy issues and decrease the overall speed of the networks.
Sohn suggested that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement currently under negotiation should remove the digital provisions since they are the most contentious. The section addressing the digital environment includes language (which is still being negotiated) about legal remedies for the act of breaking through digital locks, and for trafficking in tools that break digital locks.
Sohn said if the agreement focused on the battle against counterfeiters, many nations would approve it.
Editor's Note: This article has been corrected to reflect Steve Tepp's hypothetical example of a malfunction caused by a counterfeit good; the article had previously stated the hypothetical as if it actually happened.