WASHINGTON — Vice President Joseph Biden has promoted the importance of new trade pacts as a way to curb piracy in other countries, in what he said was necessary to create a “global economic order where creativity and innovation can thrive.”
Speaking at the Creativity Conference on Friday, Biden questioned how a country can consider itself “a law abiding nation” if piracy is running rampant, “when they are stealing the most valuable intellectual ideas of our country.”
He said that without international intellectual property protections, “other countries often make no effort to protect it.”
In fact, he argued that countries that have let piracy run rampant will “remain second rate powers unable to generate that environment to nurture home grown innovation.”
“In the absence of that protection, it will not be created,” he said.
The conference was sponsored by the MPAA, Microsoft and ABC News.
“What is at stake here is a lot more than just the value of ideas,” Biden said. “It literally is the character of the country involved in the theft. How can a nation say it is a law abiding nation when your government and your people steal the most valuable ideas from our country?”
The Obama administration, under U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, has sought agreement on a host of copyright issues via the Trans Pacific Partnership, which includes about a dozen Pacific Rim countries. The provisions include bringing laws in other countries in line with the U.S., such as on the length of copyright terms. But the pact has run into speed bumps in the face of protests as well as doubts that Congress will give the administration fast-track authority to see the agreement through. Critics have charged that the IP provisions weigh too heavily in the favor of studios and other content industries.
He also cited the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and together the pacts would represent 2/3 of the world’s economy.
Biden defended the U.S. negotiations, saying that the administration is seeking intellectual property protections along with improved labor standards in other countries as well as environmental protections.
“We make no apologies for insisting on the change standards between NAFTA and now,” Biden said, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement that went into effect in 1994.
Biden also talked about his negotiations in 2012 with then-Chinese Vice President Xi Jingping to increase the quota of foreign movies allowed in the country, from 20 to 34. He said that since then, U.S. companies’ share of the box office in China has doubled.
When Xi suggested that there was bureaucratic opposition to making such a move, Biden said he told him, “Well, it is real easy. All you have to do it pick up a phone.”
Biden argued that, given the changing nature of piracy, trade agreements were needed to “update the rules of the road for this new era” of globalization.
“If the field is even remotely level, we will succeed,” he said.
Biden is a longtime friend of MPAA CEO Chris Dodd, and quipped that when they were serving in the Senate the rumor was that Dodd “controlled” him. When the time came on Friday for Biden to go to the Creativity Conference at the Newseum, he was in the middle of a meeting in the Oval Office with President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I had to literally stand up and say, Mr. President, I have to go over and talk about trade with Chris Dodd and his group,” Biden said, “and Angela Merkel looked at me like, ‘What the hell is he talking about.”
The event was intended to showcase the importance of creative industries to the economy and that, despite some D.C. differences in policy, Hollywood and Silicon Valley need each other.
In fact, the lineup was notable for its lack of star power, instead focusing on innovation. Mary Czerwinski, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, and Avi N. Reichental, president and CEO of 3D Systems, gave a glimpse of what they expect in the future — like the technology from the movie “Her.” Czerwinski predicted it would come by 2020; Reichental by 2018.
Reichental also talked extensively about the fast-moving development of 3D printing — as he wore shoes made from such a machine. He showed an action-figure-sized doll made from a 3D printer depicting Dodd wearing a University of Connecticut jersey.
Sean Bailey, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, highlighted the idea vs. economics that go into deciding which movies to greenlight, but he also warned of the risks the U.S. faces as other countries lure major productions with incentives. “I do fear we are losing jobs and losing skill sets,” he said in a Q&A with Dodd.
Bailey added, “We love to make movies all over the world, but we really love to make them in the United States.”
Photo by Ralph Alswang: Joseph Biden speaks to Creativity Conference