WASHINGTON, June 23, 2011 – Federal law enforcement agencies testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday regarding the current state of federal intellectual property rights enforcement and the challenges to enforcing IP laws due to a complex relationship with China.
Witnesses from federal law enforcement agencies reported that the increasing complexity of prosecuting IP crimes due to their international and transnational nature has made cooperation and collaboration with foreign law enforcement agencies a high priority.
U.S. law enforcement attachés to Chinese authorities have aided in IP law enforcement cooperation, reported witnesses. These attachés also serve to train Chinese authorities in their own IP rights law enforcement efforts. While witnesses reported that the Chinese have expressed genuine concern and willingness to cooperate on IP protection issues, not all members were convinced that China has been honest with the U.S.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism Chairman, expressed grave concern not only that large amounts of IP piracy was coming from within Chinese borders, but that much of it appears to be sanctioned by Chinese authorities. Whitehouse likened modern IP piracy to the privateers, government sanctioned pirate ships, of yesteryear, resulting in a significant transfer of wealth from America into China.
“We’re on the losing end of the biggest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind and we need to do something about it,” said Whitehouse.
Whitehouse also emphasized the need for voluntary cooperation by American companies to delegitimize web IP pirates.
“If you’re an ordinary American citizen, you’re hearing from all of you [law enforcement] folks that this is wrong, but they’re being taken to these sites by legitimate American corporations and the consumer thinks that this must be legit.”
In May, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) increased domestic efforts to reign in IP piracy when she introduced a bill to make illegal online streaming of copyrighted materials for commercial purposes a felony.
“Right now, someone can stand on the corner and sell $2,500 worth of DVDs and be prosecuted, but they can’t be prosecuted for doing the same thing online, and that’s what we’re trying to change,” said Klobuchar.
Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, who was highly praised by colleagues and members during the hearing for her work over the past year to improve intellectual property law enforcement efforts, agreed with members’ concern over China and expressed need for combined private sector and government cooperation.
“We really need to have all parts of the Internet ecosystem working together if we are going to be effective in our law enforcement efforts,” said Espinel.