White House Makes Renewed Commitment To Intellectual Property Protection

Posted on April 20, 2011

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On March 15, 2011, Victoria Espinel and the Obama Administration presented Congress with the Administration’s White Paper on Intellectual Property Enforcement Legislative Recommendations, or 20 initiatives to protect U.S. intellectual property. According to The White House Blog, this move is meant to “exemplify the Administration’s commitment to protect and grow jobs and exports, as well as to safeguard the health and safety of our people.”

The legislative changes and harsher sentences recommended by the White House seem to show a new commitment to the protection of U.S. intellectual property. However, detractors fear these initiatives will have little to no impact in the real world.

While the 20 legislative recommendations cover an array of intellectual property violations from live streaming to illegal drugs, four particular areas stick out as the administration’s primary targets:

  1. Counterfeit drugs: The Obama administration wants to put an end to the online sale of counterfeit prescription drugs, as such sales represent an obvious threat to the health and safety of the American population.
  2. Counterfeit goods sold to military personnel: Just like counterfeit drugs, counterfeit supplies and gear sold to the U.S. military also carry a high risk to both those purchasing the goods and those serving alongside the buyers.
  3. Money laundering through “piracy and counterfeiting”: Until now, intellectual property crimes have carried relatively low prison sentences, if any enforcement resulted from prosecution at all. To that end, it is far less risky for those engaged in organized crime to launder money from illegal activities through counterfeit sales than less-technological driven endeavors.
  4. “The theft of American Innovation”: American ideas must be protected overseas for the sake of those thinkers who create new goods and processes as well as to keep the jobs created by those innovations within our borders.

Among the most widely publicized changes are (1) the call for Congress to give copyright owners a right of public performance, which would allow them to be paid when radio stations play their songs and (2) the recommendation that Congress make copyright infringement via streaming media and other similar technology a felony offense under “appropriate circumstances.” If number one were enacted, the radio stations would have to comply in order to avoid lawsuits. With regard to number two, “appropriate circumstances” would need to be defined. When it comes to live streaming and other Internet violations related to music and the arts, The Legal Intelligencer foresees more business partnerships than prosecution. Artists and others who want control over music, film and TV don’t usually want to see anyone go to jail; they just want the paycheck they’re entitled to as a result of the use of their work. According to Kevon Glickman, a principal in Offit Kurman’s Philadelphia office, in an e-mail to The Legal, “America is very big into letting markets find their own way rather than through legislation and the hope is that commercial agreements will eventually conquer all.”

In short, these initiatives are bad news for counterfeiters and organized crime members, good news for musical artists and the opening of a large gray area for your average Internet user and consumer of media works. We will keep you posted on further developments with this story.

Elizabeth Ritter
Ritter Law Firm, LLC

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