NBC U rep calls for White House involvement

Calling piracy “the most significant threat to the future of global economic growth and security,” NBC Universal general counsel Rick Cotton said headway against counterfeiters won’t be achieved until the federal government establishes a Cabinet-level position reporting directly to the president about the problem.

“Putting leadership for this in the White House will send a message that needs to be sent about the level of resources and commitment required” to stem piracy, Cotton told a luncheon gathering of the American Bar Assn. on Friday.

Cotton did not criticize the efforts of Chris Israel, who, as the Commerce Dept.’s intellectual property czar, is the most senior federal official dedicated to IP issues. Cotton praised Israel as “a terrific individual” whose work has been “commendable.”

“But you have to step back and look at the trend line, and the trend line is getting worse, not better,” Cotton said.

Cotton said IP theft losses for all copyright and trademark industries have “skyrocketed into the many hundreds of billions of dollars, representing increases of easily five to 10 times over what it was at the beginning of the 1990s.”

Hollywood estimates its total losses at around $6 billion annually.

“Despite much discussion over many years, despite the raising of many voices, despite many well-intentioned efforts and initiatives in both the private and public sectors, we are still losing ground,” Cotton said.

The reason: As piracy has metastasized into an international criminal enterprise involving organized crime, signaling “a paradigm shift,” governments have not adjusted accordingly, Cotton said.

Besides making counterfeiting a Cabinet-level matter, governors and mayors should also devote attention to it, and corporations should make it a CEO-level issue, he said.

Law enforcement everywhere, Cotton added, needs to do more. Specifically, the Dept. of Justice needs to “increase the number and staffing” of its Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property units, and two FBI agents devoted to IP crime should be assigned to these units. Customs agents similarly devoted should be deployed to “every significant point of entry” into the country. Special IP courts with judges experienced in IP law might need to be created, too, Cotton added, before concluding with a call to action.

“I urge you to lend your voices to support the need to escalate dramatically our public policy response in combating counterfeiting and piracy, and to insist that efforts to combat IP crime do not get diverted, diminished and ultimately back-burnered amid a welter of other priorities,” he said. “Our future economic security deserves a priority comparable to efforts to protect our physical security.”

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