WASHINGTON — The Bush administration gave a helping hand to creatives Friday by announcing a special Cabinet-level position to protect U.S. intellectual property abroad, where most piracy occurs.
But with only $2 million in funding for operations the first fiscal year and the administration’s other priorities around the world, the question remains how effective the new position will be.
The post of coordinator for international intellectual property enforcement will be part of the Dept. of Commerce, reporting to Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez. President Bush has appointed Chris Israel, currently Gutierrez’s deputy chief of staff, to the job. Israel becomes the administration’s point man dealing with international piracy.
“With guidance from Secretary Gutierrez, this office will focus entirely on coordinating and leveraging the resources within the federal government to protect U.S. intellectual property at home and abroad,” a department statement said.
Expressing cautious optimism was Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who told Daily Variety, “I hope this is more than just symbolic.”
Asked about the $2 million budget, Schiff, who originally proposed the idea of a full-time piracy czar, said, “That’s certainly a modest start, but I hope the office and its resources will grow over time. The real question, more than budget, will be: Is the administration going to back whatever Mr. Israel might suggest should be done?”
“This appointment is more about leadership than money,” said Recording Industry Assn. of America topper Mitch Bainwol. “I had the chance to speak with Secretary Gutierrez today, and it’s clear he and the president mean business.”
Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy Dan Glickman joined Bainwol in applauding the appointment, particularly for its aim to address piracy in China, which is the world leader in bootlegged goods. China has been a challenge because the administration has other priorities with the country, such as securing its help in addressing North Korea’s nuclear program.
“The strategic objectives are certainly a factor,” Schiff said. “But the economic relationship between the U.S. and China has been far more beneficial to China than to the U.S. It’s really to China’s advantage to continue that relationship unimpeded.”
Among Israel’s duties will be coordinating work previously done by different federal agencies, such as the Justice Dept.’s IP crime section and the international focus of the National Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordination Council, which is part of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Israel also will play a significant role, the department said, in carrying out the Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy, the White House’s principal initiative against networks trafficking in counterfeit goods. Exactly how large a role is not clear.
Hollywood estimates annual losses due to hard-goods piracy at about $3.5 billion, most of it overseas. Citing figures from the World Customs Organization and Interpol, the Commerce Dept. said the global market for all counterfeit goods has risen to more than $600 billion.
“Intellectual property theft costs U.S. businesses billions of dollars and weakens our economy,” Gutierrez said in a statement. “American ingenuity and innovation are driving forces in our economy and we need to protect our ideas, both at home and abroad. This new position will help us to be more aggressive and also help us to better coordinate our fight against intellectual property pirates.”
While at Commerce, Israel has worked on the Bush administration’s agenda of growing the economy, promoting trade expansion and protecting intellectual property rights. He also has a background in federal technology policy and was previously a public policy exec at Time Warner.