Hollywood lauds White House piracy plan

Detailed report viewed as step forward on intellectual property rights

The White House’s plan to combat piracy was viewed in Hollywood as a way forward, and as much a set of action items as it is a signal of the administration’s treatment of the vexing problem of copyright theft as a priority.

The 61-page plan, unveiled by Vice President Joseph Biden and the administration’s “copyright czar,” Victoria Espinel, on Tuesday, is heavy on ways to boost current law enforcement efforts and to make them more effective, whether by greater coordination among government agencies or via more rigorous efforts to engage foreign governments to curb infringement.

But it also is an effort, by mere urging of the administration, to encourage more cooperation in fighting piracy in the private sector. That was a key recommendation by Hollywood studios who have at times been frustrated in their efforts to get Internet providers to take action in curbing users who routinely infringe on copyrights.

Rick Cotton, executive vice president and general counsel of NBC Universal, called the unveiling of the plan a “historic moment” that “really marks a new day” in fighting piracy.

“This 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,” he said in an interview. He added, “What is enormously positive is it looks at the entire picture and it has specific action steps.”

Espinel, whose official title is intellectual property enforcement coordinator, was tasked with writing the report after meeting with a range of executives and representatives from industry throughout the country. Congress mandated that her post be created as part of legislation passed in 2008 to boost efforts to fight piracy and infringement.

Among her recommendations:

n Coordination of federal law enforcement efforts to avoid duplication and waste, including such things as a shared database with information about investigations and cases.

n Coordination of federal, state and local law enforcement efforts in ways that have already been used to combat narcotics trafficking, human trafficking and terrorism.

n Combat foreign websites that infringe on copyrights. This includes more domestic investigations and more encouragement of foreign law enforcement crackdowns, as well as a greater emphasis on trade agreements and work with international organizations.

n Greater cooperation among the business community “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.”

Obviously, much will depend on how the 30-plus recommendations are implemented. Espinel is among those who will testify on Capitol Hill before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, along with representatives from labor and business groups. Also scheduled to testify is Warner Bros.’ Barry Meyer.

It’s unclear what proposals will require legislation. Hollywood has been pushing what is called a “graduated response” system for fighting Internet piracy, in which Internet providers block service for users who are warned of copyright violations but fail to stop. Just when and how Internet providers pull the plug has been at the heart of many disputes between the two industries, as well as public interest groups concerned that the enforcement steps will be taken too far.

But at least on Tuesday, groups that often found themselves at odds were in agreement in offering words of praise for the report.

The MPAA called the plan an “important step forward in combatting 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.”

Public Knowledge’s Gigi B. Sohn, wary of industry efforts to cut off Internet access “based only on unproven allegations without any due process,” said in a statement that Espinel’s findings “show that she understands the concept of balance in copyright law at a time when others in the administration do not.”

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