Capitol caucus tackles piracy

Bipartisan group leans on foreign trade partners

WASHINGTON — As Hollywood hashes out the fine points of a new Oscars screeners policy designed to fight piracy inside the biz, lawmakers on Capitol Hill pledged to beef up efforts to fight music and movie theft worldwide.

A bipartisan group of influential lawmakers launched the Congressional Intl. Antipiracy Caucus on Tuesday, an effort to lean on U.S. trade partners around the globe to strengthen their copyright laws and enforcement efforts.

The caucus is the newest addition to a long list of congressional groups promoting showbiz and antipiracy interests in Washington, but its founders believe the fact that it includes lawmakers from both the House and Senate, has a narrow focus on international issues and already boasts some 60 members will make it a powerful force when it comes to influencing legislation and worldwide trade policy.

“We’re not talking about a few people downloading movies on their home computers,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) as he held up pirated copies of “Bad Boys II” and “Matchstick Men.” “We’re talking about a major black market business around the world.”

Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Jack Valenti was skedded to speak to reporters about the new caucus but was waylaid in Los Angeles, negotiating with filmmakers and industry groups about a controversial compromise on the distribution of screeners.

“(Valenti) is up to his eyeballs in a related (screeners) issue,” said MPAA veep Fritz Attaway. “We’re fighting for our lives.”

Recording Industry Assn. of America chief Mitch Bainwol was on hand to thank the lawmakers for their efforts.

“(The caucus) provides us with some real hope,” he noted.

Who’s who

Caucus co-chairs include Sens. Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) as well as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), whose district is home to Disney, DreamWorks/Universal and Warner Bros. studios.

The lawmakers are determined to drive the issue home by talking about it in terms of job losses and the country’s weak economy, terms their colleagues should understand. The IRS, Biden said, loses more than $1 billion worth of tax revenue each year because of intellectual property theft.

The lawmakers unveiled an international piracy watch list made up of five countries they believe merit close congressional scrutiny: Brazil, China, Pakistan, Russia and Taiwan. They also praised recent efforts by Malaysia, Mexico and Thailand to step up their enforcement efforts.

Founders of the caucus promised to brief congressional delegations traveling to countries with significant copyright problems; hold staff and member briefings and forums on the issue; demonstrate new technologies and products designed to improve consumers’ entertainment experiences and reduce piracy; and work closely with their colleagues to hold additional hearings and craft legislation.

Discs seized

Later Tuesday, the RIAA released statistics about its enforcement efforts against physical disc piracy taking place around the United States.

Approximately 2.5 million counterfeit or pirated CD-Rs, unauthorized recordings transferred on a burner, were seized in the first six months of 2003, the trade group said. The numbers is more than an 18% increase from midyear 2002 when the org reported 2.1 million seizures.

“The growth in seizures of counterfeit product is a reflection of a worsening problem and our stepped-up enforcement efforts to deal with it,” RIAA prexy Cary Sherman said in a statement.

Sherman added that the RIAA has devoted more money to fighting piracy at the same time law enforcement has stepped up its enforcement efforts to crack down on pirated music sold at flea markets and on street corners, as well as the manufacturing and distribution plants that make the goods available.

So far this year, the RIAA efforts, Sherman said, resulted in a greater number of jail sentences for music pirates and an increase in the amount of compensation awarded to the industry in copyright theft cases.

For instance, the New York Police Dept. seized 125,000 counterfeit CD-Rs in the first six months of 2003, and the U.S. Secret Service seized 115 CD-R burners and more than 42,000 counterfeit/pirate CD-Rs, packaged and ready to distribute.

A number of Empire State raids earlier this year discovered more than 150,000 counterfeit and pirated CD-Rs ready to be sold to local vendors.

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