Let's reward today's superheroes by respecting their intellectual property
© Getty Images

Last weekend, just days after attending a White House roundtable on the threat of counterfeit and pirated goods to the U.S. economy, I joined the 90 percent of moviegoers lined up to see “Avengers: Endgame.” After enjoying this fantastic movie, I wrote a quick social media review. Within moments, I received two separate posts directing me to pirate sites, where I could purportedly watch the same film in HD for free.

Of course I declined the offer. But as an intellectual property advocate, I couldn’t help but note the blatant online advertising of stolen goods. It underscores a disturbing trend we mostly ignore, to our peril. Americans are pirating digital content at an alarming rate, and I know too well the practice has severe implications for our economy, jobs and innovation.

Nearly one-third of U.S. adults admit to streaming or downloading pirated movies and television shows. Most know it’s illegal but do it anyway, ignoring the costs of their behavior.

And those costs are immense. A report from Digital TV Research forecasts that global piracy will deprive the TV and film industry of $52 billion each year by 2022. Add in music, e-books, and other creative products and the total losses from piracy are staggering.

Unfortunately for my quest to win hearts and minds away from digital theft, it can be difficult to translate such huge monetary figures into real-life terms. And for most of us, it’s tough to feel sorry for movie stars whose bank accounts surely put our own to shame.

Keep in mind, however, that the big name stars—even with “Endgame’s” impressive cast—represent a tiny fraction of the labor required to produce a movie. For “Avengers,” makeup alone drew a staff of more than 40 professionals, and the list of visual effects contributors literally runs for pages. Movie revenues pay the salaries for all of these people, as well as the thousands of sound, special effects, camera, stunt, animation, casting, music, transportation, and other personnel, along with the numerous caterers, contractors, suppliers, and local small businesses a single movie hires.

Stealing films means stealing from these individuals and their families. This is a fact no disingenuous debate over the morality of digital piracy can erase. Peer reviewed research confirms the obvious, that piracy harms sales. And those who argue it’s the fault of entertainment companies making products difficult to access have been proven wrong, too. Studies demonstrate that greater availability leads to only a small number of content criminals to change their ways.

What deters digital theft is enforcement. Imposing consequences for piracy has been shown to convince consumers to choose legal avenues to obtain content, generally paid or advertising-supported. Thus, to ensure a movie’s digital compositor, set dresser, and aerial camera operator have the job opportunities and receive the paychecks they deserve, the U.S. must defend intellectual property with greater alacrity and demand other countries do the same.

But the reasons for respecting intellectual property stretch far beyond supporting the individuals who contribute to our viewing pleasure. Intellectual property is the foundation of our economy and the fuel for our future.

Innovation supports 45 million U.S. jobs, drives growth, and generates breakthrough solutions to our most challenging problems. Only by rewarding intellectual property with profit can we encourage people to invest time, effort and money to develop agricultural technologies to feed the world, drive pharmaceutical advancements to cure disease, deliver green energy systems to mitigate climate change, write the Great American Novel, and yes, make incredibly entertaining movies.

Have no doubt, intellectual property thieves, including digital pirates, are the bad guys in this plot. They steal from all of us. It’s America’s artists and innovators who are the real superheroes, and they must be paid for their work.

Raymond F. Kerins Jr. is chairman of U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) and senior vice president of Corporate Affairs at Bayer USA.