Obama Administration Lock(e)s And Loads Against Movie PiracyPublished on 22 April 2009 @ 12:41 am
By Liza Porteus Viana for Intellectual Property Watch
WASHINGTON, DC – The Obama administration will fight for the movie industry and work to aggressively enforce its intellectual property protections both at home and abroad, United States Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said here Tuesday.
Locke offered almost unabashed support for the industry, which, according to a report released Tuesday [pdf] by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), created 2.5 million American jobs in 2007, paid an average production worker US$74,700 a year in salary, paid out $41.1 billion in salaries to American workers, paid $13 billion in income and sales tax and was responsible for $13.6 billion in trade surplus.
Those participating in an MPAA event here stressed that because the movie industry gives back to the economy and movies are such a large American export, it is vital – now more than ever in this tumultuous economic climate – that its intellectual property be protected here and overseas.
“I see yours as an industry worth fighting for,” said Locke, adding that 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States, and there’s a strong international market for that product. “It’s my priority to continue that growth.”
Locke, who is in his fourth week on the job at Commerce, said trade is the cornerstone of the Obama administration’s economic strategy, and trade agreements that adhere to safety and human rights standards, among other requirements, will be pursued, as will strong intellectual property protections. He specifically cited China as one country where counterfeiting is rampant, and the latest “X-Men” blockbuster as a prime example of how more enforcement is needed.
Earlier this month, movie production company 20th Century Fox and the MPAA were stunned when a rough and unfinished copy of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” appeared online – a full month before its scheduled release.
“Our ability to trade in a rules-based system around the world is critical to your success and our economic success as a nation,” Locke said, stressing that the United States will employ “full and impartial” enforcement of intellectual property policies. The Obama administration is ‘well aware’ of the impact of piracy and counterfeiting on the movie industry and, ‘we’re working hard to combat it,’ he added.
Commerce has placed IP attachés around world, including in China, India and Brazil. Commerce offers a website with links to executive branch intellectual property rights programs, ways to file IP rights complaints, and patent and trademark experts working a hotline to help businesses secure and enforce their IP rights. Locke said government and industry needs to build international coalitions with “like-minded foreign governments” and industries to combat global internet piracy. “We can do it and we must,” he added.
President Obama has been vocal about his support for intellectual property protections and the need for increased enforcement. His vice president, former Senator Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, has in the past been an ardent supporter of content providers, even sponsoring copyright industry-friendly legislation.
In fact, Biden was the guest speaker at the MPAA dinner Tuesday evening.
Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation downplayed Locke’s strong enforcement message. “We all agree that commercial piracy and counterfeiting are a bad thing and ought to be the subject of enforcement,” he said. “Rather, it’s other aspects of the MPAA agenda, often misleadingly cloaked in ‘piracy’ rhetoric, that have given the public interest community reason for concern.”
Von Lohmann gave an example of pressuring internet service providers to terminate consumers for noncommercial downloading, which he said raises very different issues from enforcement efforts against commercial DVD counterfeiters. Similarly, the secret negotiations around ACTA may harm global access to knowledge, an issue that is only tangentially related to the fate of Hollywood blockbusters, he said.
As globalisation increases and intellectual property is exported to more corners of the globe, the copyright industry is hoping for protection from both ends of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
A total of 41 organisations, including the MPAA, Copyright Alliance, Association of American Publishers, Business Software Alliance, Entertainment Software Association, Magazine Publishers of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America on Monday sent a letter to Obama [pdf], stressing that the livelihood of millions of Americans depends on stronger enforcement.
“Enforcement of copyrights and patents and protecting the freedom to create and be compensated for it are essential components of promoting the progress of sciences and arts, as articulated so clearly by our Founding Fathers in the US Constitution,” the letter said. “Similarly, enforcement of trademarks protects consumers while providing incentives to create better products.”
This letter was in response to a 2 April letter [pdf] from 19 groups like Public Knowledge, the American Library Association, Consumer Electronics Association, Center for Democracy and Technology, Computer and Communications Industry Association, and Electronic Frontier Foundation, that called on Obama to appoint people to intellectual property posts at the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), State Department, Office of the US Trade Representative, and elsewhere, that “reflect the diversity of stakeholders affected by IP policy” and to create posts that encourage freedom of expression and innovation. The group lamented that several people named to formulate IP policy thus far, including two at the Justice Department, have come from the copyright industry.
The new letter from the content creators’ corner argues that it is not a choice “between safeguarding IP protection on the one hand and promoting innovation no the other.”
“The hallmarks of your administration’s appointees have been competence, substantive expertise, and a commitment to your administration’s agenda,” it continued.
Indeed, many eyes in the United States and across the globe are watching the Obama administration to see who the new president selects to head up the USPTO, and who he selects for the new position of IP enforcement “tsar.” Some names that have been floated around industry circles in recent months are music industry lobbyist and former Time Warner and Copyright Office official Shira Perlmutter; Victoria Espinel, former chief policy advisor to the USTR on intellectual property and trade issues;Tom Rubin, Microsoft chief IP counsel; and Jay Monahan, former eBay vice president for IP, former vice president for worldwide piracy for Disney, now general counsel at a startup called Vuze. Other corners say the list is still fluid.
Paul R. Michel, chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, DC, told Intellectual Property Watch that it’s “critical” this IP enforcement tsar have international experience, and should be somebody “who’s equally strong and reputable on enforcement within the US but equally strong and effective on the world scene.”
Matthew Bryan, director of the Patent Cooperation Treaty legal division at the World Intellectual Property Organization told Intellectual Property Watch Tuesday that the international community also is watching this appointment with great interest, but many questions remain on what exactly he or she will focus on. “We’re very intrigued at that position. We don’t know much about it,” Bryan said.
It is not expected that the appointment of IP tsar take place immediately, however. It’s said that the White House needs to determine how the position will fit within the policy structure there (IPW, US Policy, 27 January 2009). A USPTO director should be named much sooner, possibly even this month.
The administration is said to be in the final vetting stages for four USPTO candidates, including American Intellectual Property Law Association Executive Director Q. Todd Dickinson and former AIPLA executive director, Mike Kirk. Other PTO prospects are said to include IBM Vice President David Kappos, and James Pooley, partner at Morrison Foerster law firm.
“Any of them we would love to work with … we think all of them are exceptionally well-qualified,” WIPO’s Bryan said of the prospective USPTO candidates. “We look forward to working with anyone the administration has on IP.”
Liza Porteus Viana may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.