A Way Forward on Piracy


The White House this morning is releasing a comprehensive plan to combat piracy, the chief issue of the studios in Washington.

The plan — just posted here — is heavy on proposals to boost the cooperation among government agencies, which is not a great surprise since it was written by the White House’s “copyright czar,” Victoria Espinel, whose official title is Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator. Among other things, it calls for a review of efforts to curb piracy overseas, particularly in China, and it calls for coming up with a plan to figure out what to do with foreign websites that offer pirated movies, TV shows, songs, etc.

One of the entertainment industry’s chief recommendations was help in nudging Internet providers to cooperate with them as they track down copyright theft. The idea of shutting down service to repeated infringers has always triggered emotional reactions from various interest groups in Washington, particularly when it comes to privacy, but the plan stops short of proposing any sort of legislation to do so, just cooperation.

There is very little in the plan about “education,” i.e. public service campaigns to instruct the public that piracy is theft. It’s perhaps an acknowledgment that that approach just has not worked, and even if it has, the federal government’s resources are best spent elsewhere.

At a ceremony this morning to unveil the plan, Vice President Joseph Biden, flanked by Attorney General Eric Holder and Espinel, put the issue into the context of public safety.

“Whether we’re talking about fake drugs that hurt…or knock off car tires that fall apart at 65 miles per hour causing injury and death, counterfeits kill. Counterfeits kill,” he said.

A big message at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, which will feature labor and business leaders as well as Warner Bros.’ Barry Meyer, will be casting the issue as a matter of jobs, never an easy task when it comes to an industry viewed as well heeled.

The MPAA issued a statement that said, in part, “This plan is an important step forward in combating intellectual property theft and protecting the millions of jobs and businesses that rely so heavily on copyrights, patents and trademarks and help drive the American economy.”

Rick Cotton, executive vice president and general counsel of NBC Universal, said that the plan was “historically important” because it elevates enforcement of copyright laws and combating piracy. “It is a recognition by the White House that we need strong action to protect what drives the U.S. economy and what drives U.S. jobs.”

Update: Here’s the passage calling for greater cooperation between creators and Internet providers.

“The U.S. Government supports the free flow of information and freedom of expression over the Internet. An open and accessible Internet is critical to our economy. At the same time, the Internet should not be used as a means to further criminal activity. The Administration encourages cooperative efforts within the business community to reduce Internet piracy. The Administration believes that it is essential for the private sector, including content owners, Internet service providers, advertising brokers, payment processors and search engines, to work collaboratively, consistent with the antitrust laws, to address activity that has a negative economic impact and undermines U.S. businesses, and to seek practical and efficient solutions to address infringement. This should be achieved through carefully crafted and balanced agreements. Specifically, the Administration encourages actions by the private sector to effectively address repeated acts of infringement, while preserving the norms of legitimate competition, free speech, fair process and the privacy of users. While the Administration encourages cooperative efforts within the business community to reduce Internet piracy, the Administration will pursue additional solutions to the problems associated with Internet piracy, including vigorously investigating and prosecuting criminal activity, where warranted.”

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