A way to combat online theft

They’re called rogue sites, and they exist for one purpose only:  to make a profit using the Internet to distribute the stolen and counterfeited goods and ideas of others. The economic impact of these activities — millions of lost jobs and dollars — is profound. That’s why dozens of labor organizations and business groups have come together to support legislation to provide the Justice Department with new enforcement tools to combat this growing menace to the American economy.

These sites take many forms, and their operators are located throughout the world. They have in common one characteristic: They materially contribute to, facilitate and/or induce the illegal distribution of both stolen lawful products, such as movies and television programs, as well unlawful ones, such as counterfeit goods, including prescription medications.

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The operators use a variety of means to facilitate their goals — advertising, rentals, sales and charges for premium services. They are commonly assisted — sometimes unwittingly so — by American companies whose ads are placed on the sites by brokers. They are also often aided by enterprises that provide the financial services for their schemes.

Bipartisan congressional efforts to crack down on these operations are opposed by groups who claim the First Amendment protects the rights of these sites to use the Internet for their illegal practices. But the First Amendment was not intended as a shield for those who steal, irrespective of the means. Theft is theft, whether it occurs in a dark alley or in the ether, and to attempt to distinguish the two is to undermine the most basic tenets of our criminal laws.  

According to a study by the International Intellectual Property Alliance, in 2007 more than 11.7 million people were employed by copyright industries in the U.S.  This amounted to 8.51 percent of the U.S. workforce. In other words, in 2007 these industries added $1.52 trillion to the economy, or 11.05 percent of the GDP.

The American intellectual property community creates well-paying jobs, provides and funds pension and healthcare plans and increases tax revenues to cities and towns across the nation. In my industry alone, millions of carpenters, electricians, set designers, caterers, costume designers and others bring home paychecks because of their roles in making movies and television programs. 

Rogue websites threaten the heart of our industry and the livelihoods of the people who give it life. These sites do not represent a problem that lies on the far horizon. They are here now, and they are here in volume.

Recognizing the magnitude of this threat, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees are working on legislation to help address these rogue websites. We look forward to working with them in the new Congress.

In the Senate, Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOn The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill Trump's border funding comes back from the dead MORE (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer Trump gambles in push for drug import proposal Biden's role in Anita Hill hearings defended by witness not allowed to testify MORE (R-Utah), a leading committee member, have introduced legislation to provide the Department of Justice new tools to crack down on these illicit operations, both directly, and through action aimed at organizations that help enable the distribution of their illegal goods by providing financial services or advertising revenue.

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act is co-sponsored by 16 other senators on both sides of the aisle. It is supported by organizations representing millions of Americans who make motion pictures, television programs, books, magazines and music and whose livelihoods are endangered by the rapid growth in rogue and unlawful Internet sites. 

As Sen. Leahy has noted, these are the “worst of the worst” online websites. The operators of these sites knowingly break the law, harm the American economy, deprive American intellectual property owners of their rights, cost American jobs and, in the case of counterfeit prescription drugs, potentially threaten the health and welfare of American consumers.

It will take a strong, sustained effort to stop Internet thieves and profiteers. We believe Congress and the administration can make a significant contribution to that effort by turning the Leahy-Hatch bill into law and giving law enforcement significantly enhanced tools for addressing a threat that deprives American innovators of the fruits of their labors and menaces our nation’s economic health.  


Bob Pisano is President and Interim CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.