C’rights top U.S. exports

Intellectual property overtakes ag, auto, aerospace industries

WASHINGTON — Guns? Butter? No, the major exports from the United States today are more likely to be “Men In Black,” LeAnn Rimes’ tune “Blue” or a Windows ’95 software program.

After coming in second for seven years in a row, the nation’s copyright industries finally took the top spot on the list of leading exports with $60.18 billion in foreign sales, according a report released Thursday by a coalition of intellectual property trade groups.

Intellectual property, for the purpose of this survey, is an idea that can be bought and sold, such as a song lyric, a movie script or a software program.

The core copyright industries, which include the movie, recording, publishing and software industries, displaced the perennial leaders, which are agriculture, aerospace and automobiles, according to the report by the Intl. Intellectual Property Alliance, a coalition that includes the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the Recording Industry Assn. of America and the National Music Publishers Assn.

The report also shows, based on figures compiled by the Commerce Department in 1996, that copyright industries grew 5.5% in 1996, more than twice the rate of inflation, and places them among the fastest growing sectors in the U.S economy.

Ammo for treaty push

The report was released at a press conference led by Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who pointed to the results as evidence for the need to approve World Intellectual Property Organization treaties. The two treaties would create a global copyright protection for the copyright-rich industries.

“By enhancing copyright protection worldwide and providing greater certainty for those that conduct business online … (WIPO legislation) will facilitate making available via the Internet movies, software and literary works that are the fruit of American creative genius.” Hatch said the WIPO legislation could come to a vote on the Senate floor as early as next week.

Also appearing at the press conference was MPAA prexy Jack Valenti, who also urged Congress to approve the WIPO treaties and other legislation that would bring the U.S. into compliance with pacts’ provisions.

When it comes to intellectual property, Valenti said, “We dominate the world, and nobody is even close to us,” adding, “This valuable prize has to be protected.” Valenti said passage of WIPO would reduce the $20 billion annual loss to piracy by 15% to 20%.

Valenti said the movie industry’s foreign sales increased 12% to 14% in 1997 — a year which the MPAA topper said was “glorious for our industry.”

The RIAA’s Hilary Rosen also endorsed the call for enactment of WIPO, noting that here industry had a strong interest in the security of intellectual property. “We don’t own a lot of buildings, and we don’t own a lot of factories … but we do own billions of dollars worth of copyrights,” said Rosen.

How “intellectual”?

One intriguing question, just how much of the “intellectual property” is truly intellectual, as opposed to say, video games or software programs, remains unanswered. The report did not break down individual industries’ contributions to copyright revenue, and the spokesmen on hand were unable, or declined, to provide a breakdown.