Celebrating the birth of copyright (Sen. Patrick Leahy)

The copyright laws offer creators incentive to produce new and unique works.  These may come in various  forms, including movies, music, and books, all of which are important components of American culture. These works create jobs, from their production and manufacture to the advertising and sales that support them. 

To cultivate these new jobs, intellectual property enforcement must keep pace with an ever changing digital world. As an avid photographer I am intrigued by the debate at the turn of the 20th Century about whether photographs were copyrightable creations, or merely technical representations. Public discussion then helped shape copyright laws to accommodate the new medium, just as it does now as times and technologies continue to change.

Today people watch television on handheld devices, skim books on digital readers and enjoy music on laptops, benefiting both content owner and the user. But along with these new opportunities for distributing creative content, the World Wide Web has also brought new challenges.

A rampant increase in online piracy threatens the financial viability of those same copyright owners who benefit from our new technology. This risks harming not only those creators, but the hundreds of thousands of jobs that result from their products. It also instills the user with a fundamental mistrust of the technology. Effective intellectual property enforcement is necessary to counter this attack.

In recent years I have worked to enact legislation to better promote the use of new technology, while providing protections from those threats that this technology invites. I was pleased that Congress enacted the PRO-IP Act in 2008 to establish a new Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) charged with enforcing our nation’s intellectual property laws. This is a solid new step to directly and aggressively confront the corrosive damage of online piracy.

The PRO-IP Act also chartered additional tools to better combat copyright and trademark infringement.  That legislation emphasized our commitment to protecting those individuals and companies who dedicate their time and energy to creating works that benefit the American people. These protections are vital not only to promote creativity, but also to protect jobs.

Last month the AFL-CIO underscored the importance of effective intellectual property enforcement in creating new jobs and maintaining existing ones. They argue that digital theft of sound recordings costs the U.S. economy $12.5 billion in total output and costs American workers 71,060 jobs, while feature film piracy results in $5.5 billion in lost wages annually and costs 141,030 jobs – staggering numbers which show why vigorous intellectual property enforcement is absolutely necessary to reverse these trends and to fuel job creation.

I look forward to working with the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, as well as the Justice Department’s newly created Intellectual Property Task Force, to see that we are protecting U.S. copyright owners as we should, while effectively policing those who pose the greatest threat to our copyright system. We must continually strive to make sure that our system is working for those artists and entrepreneurs who it is designed to protect.

The 300th anniversary of the Statute of Anne should remind all of us how our technology and intellectual property laws have evolved over the past three centuries. It is also a timely reminder of the never-ending obligation of each generation of Americans to improve and update the intellectual property protections that are so vital to American creators, to the public and to our economy. I look forward to that challenge.