NewsSep 19, 03:55 PM
Countering counterfeiting to protect our workers and communities
By John Sweeney
Posted: 09/11/08 04:37 PM [ET]
Protecting intellectual property is a key emerging issue on Capitol Hill, and it’s not just an issue that affects the bottom line of big corporations. America’s workers are also being victimized by a tidal wave of counterfeiting (passing off fake products as real) and digital theft (illegal copying and distribution of movies, music, software and other copyrighted goods). This tidal wave threatens the well-being of the U.S. economy, endangers our citizens, and steals our jobs.
Congress has a historic opportunity this term to enact nonpartisan legislation that would significantly step up our government’s ability to respond to this real danger. We cannot afford to let this opportunity pass us by.
Counterfeiting and digital theft is a global growth industry, with devastating effects.
Government figures put the U.S. economic losses in the neighborhood of $200-$250 billion dollars per year. This activity costs American workers 750,000 jobs annually and countless millions in lost wages. We cannot sit by while revenues that should be augmenting wages and pension plans are siphoned off to bloat the bank accounts of the international organized crime syndicates that now dominate the trade in illicit goods.
This is an issue that affects workers and creators in a broad array of sectors, including consumer goods, automotive parts, pharmaceuticals, fashion, entertainment products and software. The industries — which all depend on the protection of intellectual property (IP) — drive America’s economic growth. Our nation’s economic future depends on protecting them from theft.
Counterfeiting and digital theft don’t just harm workers. As consumers, we pay the price when creators are robbed of the full return on their investment, as we must either pay more for what is offered or receive fewer choices. We also suffer when counterfeiters pollute the stream of commerce with fake brake pads stuffed with sawdust, fake toothpaste laced with antifreeze, and fake pharmaceuticals that can kill instead of heal. And we are the ones deprived when our federal and state governments are robbed of tax revenue needed for schools and other services because legitimate sales are displaced by black-market vendors who pay no taxes.
To address this crisis, the House passed in May, by a vote of 410-11, a bill aptly called the “PRO-IP Act.” The bill, championed by Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and by the IP Subcommittee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Howard Coble (R-N.C.), would dramatically enhance the government’s ability to respond to the IP threat in three ways:
First, it would create dedicated resources — prosecutors, agents and international specialists — to focus exclusively on counterfeiting and digital theft issues. Experience has taught that only by devoting dedicated resources to this problem can IP enforcement avoid slipping to the bottom of the priority list.
Second, it would ensure that this issue receives the high visibility it deserves by creating leadership positions at the key agencies and a Senate-confirmed IP coordinator in the White House to ensure that the many agencies and departments of the government that have a hand in IP enforcement are all on the same page.
Third, it would update laws that have fallen behind the times and put into place meaningful sanctions to deter counterfeiting and digital theft.
On July 24, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the Senate Judiciary Committee’s chairman and ranking member, respectively, along with a number of other senators, introduced the “Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act,” a bill that also addresses these three key components in a manner that would result in a substantial upgrade to our government’s ability to turn the tide. That bill is being actively considered in the Senate.
There is much to do in the short amount of time left in this session if this critical legislation is to pass. But the need is too great to leave this for the next session of Congress to fix. American workers and consumers deserve a government better equipped to combat the harms that counterfeiting and digital theft are visiting upon us daily. Congress should take swift action on this crucial issue.
Sweeney is president of the AFL-CIO.
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