U.S. Congress Has an Anti-Piracy Caucus?

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Before I go off on my usual rant about the ridiculous amount of power the entertainment industry has over the US government, let’s take care of the China angle here first.

An informal group of US legislators, organized to specifically address IP enforcement issues, has come out with a report that specifically names China, as well as four other nations, as a serious IP offender.

Here’s how one journalist approached the news:

Members of the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus (IAPC) today released its 2009 Priority Watch List of countries where piracy — the theft of anything that’s supposed to be enjoy intellectual property protections, including CDs, DVDs, even car parts and medicines, often via the Internet — has reached alarming levels. Canada, China, Mexico, Russia and Spain made it to this year’s list. The United States government has its own list of countries to watch because of rampant IP theft, but that list is much bigger. One of the big concerns — besides a loss of revenue for the movie and record industries, among others — is that organized crime use funds from the piracy of DVDs and CDs for its own nefarious activities.

And the piracy may be getting more brazen. In early April, an unfinished copy of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” appeared online a full month before the blockbuster’s scheduled release.

I found this article on a politics site, so this person is not an IP guru and should therefore not be held to a very high standard when it comes to those issues. The unfortunate result, however, is a cut-and-paste exercise using industry press releases — sort of like what I’m doing here, albeit without questioning the content.

In this case, we have the suggestion that IP theft in China has suddenly reached epic proportions with respect to copyrighted works, requiring immediate action. No mention is made of course of the positive trends in the software industry (see my post yesterday on Microsoft for an example), or even an acknowledgment that all of this has been going on for quite a long time.

Notice that particular mention is made of the revenue losses of the music and movie lobby, and that ill-gotten gains are tied directly to organized crime. I wouldn’t say that these are inaccurate statements, but I must’ve seen at least 1,286 press releases from industry over the past couple years alone that read exactly like that.

That last bit about the Wolverine movie is understandable as it is the latest rallying cry of the motion picture industry, and of course journalists like to throw in a concrete example now and again so we have a better concept of what is at stake here. But to throw out the fact that a screening copy or a handy cam version of a new movie is making the rounds of the usual torrent sites, well that is hardly news is it?

Moving on, I admit to not being familiar with the Congressional International Anti-piracy Caucus (let’s call it CIAC for short). I’ve heard of the Black Caucus, the Progressive Caucus, and the Streptococcus, but not these guys. Here’s their mission statement:

The Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus, which was originally formed in 2003, is made up of over 70 members of Congress. The goal of the Caucus is to provide briefings for Congressional delegations traveling to countries with significant piracy problems, staff and member briefings and forums on international intellectual property protection and piracy, demonstrations of new technologies and products designed to improve consumers’ entertainment experiences and to reduce piracy and to work closely with the committees of jurisdiction in the House and Senate on related hearings and legislation.

Seventy members of Congress is nothing to sneeze at, that’s a pretty big group. I wish that I could applaud all of their efforts, all those committee meetings, the overseas junkets where members no doubt tour places like the Silk Market, etc. I certainly can’t do that without qualification though.

Seems to me that there are a lot of very serious problems facing legislators these days. I wonder if all those pressing concerns have caucuses that boast this many members? I profess my ignorance on this, but are there caucuses this large that help the homeless, the working poor, the malnourished, children living without sufficient food or health care?

Maybe yes (and I’m sure that some of the groups I mentioned above address many of these issues), but I do find it interesting how much action there is when an industry group is involved that has a whole lot of money to throw around every two years when these clowns run for reelection.

The US Trade Representative recently published their annual report to Congress concerning the state of IP protection worldwide. In the US government, this really is the definitive report that many rely on. It certainly covers copyright infringement and contains rigorous analysis.

Can someone please tell me what is the added value of having a similar report prepared by the CIAC? If it was as good as the USTR’s effort, I would call it duplicative, but I doubt it’s that good. Seems like a thinly transparent shout out to the entertainment industry (a.k.a. campaign donors), just another way of saying “Thanks for your support, we’re thinking of you and trying to get the press excited about this issue.”