Lawmakers, industry lament costs of online piracy at hearing

Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel promised at a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the government would target foreign websites that facilitate the piracy of movies, music, software and other intellectual property. The oversight hearing came just one day after the White House unveiled its joint strategic plan to combat intellectual property theft.

Espinel said America has long been the target of counterfeiters and thieves because of its leadership in fields such as technology, pharmaceuticals, software, filmmaking and video games. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates intellectual-property-intensive industries account for $5 trillion annually and employ 18 million American workers.

"Just as intellectual property is crucial to our economy, counterfeiting and piracy of that American intellectual property slows our growth," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Leahy called fighting piracy a bipartisan issue that has fostered cooperation from both Democrats and Republicans.

"It is America's innovation that drives the economy and keeps people working," Espinel agreed.

Espinel said the plan would increase cooperation among federal agencies and increase the use of diplomatic pressure on foreign governments and trading partners to respect American intellectual property. She said legislative action may also be necessary.

Lawmakers pressed Espinel on how she would secure the cooperation of foreign governments to crack down on online piracy, which is particularly harmful to the movie, music and software industries.

"We do not have the cooperation of China, they are stealing our intellectual property and our future today," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)

Espinel said intellectual property is part of a larger administration strategy for dealing with China, but said the administration would also like to see Canada make some improvements in its counterfeit laws and border controls.

Barry Meyer, chief executive officer of Warner Bros. Entertainment, said motion picture piracy costs the American economy more than $20 billion annually, citing the large number of movies that are downloaded illegally over the Internet.

Meyer praised the strategic plan and said his industry is taking a proactive approach to dealing with piracy, but needs help from the government.

Paul Almeida, president of the Department for Professional Employees at the AFL-CIO, said piracy has a significant detrimental impact on residual payments paid to actors for previously recorded material that is aired again. Almeida said for many members of the Screen Actors Guild residuals are often their primary source of income between jobs and can make up as much as half of their overall income.