Congressman Howard Berman (CA-28), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today introduced wide-ranging legislation to improve and support U.S. foreign policy efforts, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011 (H.R. 2410).
The legislation authorizes hiring 1500 additional Foreign Service Officers over the next two years and contains provisions on recruitment and training of officers to improve the Foreign Service’s ability to respond to modern challenges. It requires the State Department to conduct a quadrennial review of its policies and programs that defines objectives, budget requirements and how these programs fit into the President’s national security strategy.
The bill is chock full of a lot of great stuff that I generally support, including fully funding the U.S.’s UN obligations. In particular is a line item that would:
Increase resources and training for enforcement of intellectual property rights, especially in countries identified by the U.S. government as lax in enforcing those rights.
According to a US Chamber of Commerce statement:
To protect and enforce IP rights abroad, the bill authorizes 10 IP attachés to serve in US embassies and diplomatic missions, coordinating with foreign governments, rights holders, the secretary of State, and the White House IP enforcement coordinator.
OK, sounds good to me. More resources is positive, and as we’ve seen over the past few years, having an IP attaché at the Embassy can be a valuable thing (Mark Cohen did an amazing job here — he recently jumped over to Jones Day’s Beijing office — not sure who has his old job now).
At this point of the post, the smart thing to do would be to shut up and allow my positive comments, and the provisions of the bill, speak for themselves. Unfortunately, I am not too bright and will plow ahead with a slightly unpleasant angle to this story.
I like Howard Berman, not least of which because he is a lefty Jewish lawyer from LA like myself. I like his politics, and I like the bill and his work on the House Judiciary Committee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.
But, and I say this more of a critique of the American political system than of Howard Berman, the Congressman does seem to be benefiting from this work quite nicely.
Let’s take a look at his top donors from the 2007/8 election cycle. The top three are News Corp., Time Warner, and National Amusements Inc. If you are wondering just who National Amusements is, check this out (sorry for the verbosity, but this is important):
National Amusements, Inc., is a world leader in the motion picture exhibition industry operating more than 1,500 movie screens in the U.S., U.K., Latin America and Russia. National Amusements delivers a superior entertainment experience in theatres around the world under its Showcase, Multiplex, Cinema de Lux, and KinoStar brands.
Based in Dedham, Massachusetts, National Amusements is a closely held company operating under the third generation of leadership by the Redstone family. National Amusements is also an equal partner in the online ticketing service, MovieTickets.com, and is the parent company of both Viacom and CBS Corporation.
Among Berman’s top 20 donors, you will also find Walt Disney, General Electric, Vivendi, Sony, Activision, ASCAP, Warner Music Group, and the Directors Guild of America. During his career in Congress, Berman’s donations from the entertainment industry outstrip by far any other industry.
I’m in favor of the extra funding for international IP personnel and programs. However, the fact that a lot of this is being pushed by Big Media via legislators that it gives lots of money to leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Final note: none of this is a surprise. I just like to remind myself once in a while how we end up with IP laws and policies in the U.S.