Stores that sell stolen goods are shut down. Why should rogue websites that break the law be treated any differently? Rogue websites steal American jobs, harm our consumers, and hamper innovation and creativity.
Rogue websites are sites dedicated to the theft of intellectual property (IP) – trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy. They sell knock-offs of consumer products like shoes and handbags, as well as fake drugs. They also offer illicit copies of America’s most creative software, music, movies, and books.
Many of these sites try to pose as legitimate businesses. Consumers are lured to sophisticated and well-designed websites, complete with corporate advertising, credit card acceptance, and similar signs of legitimacy. But the reality is that consumers are getting poor quality or even harmful fakes and putting themselves at risk of identity theft and malicious computer viruses from sites that offer free downloads.
This criminal activity comes at a steep price. IP industries are of huge value to the US economy, employing more than 18 million people and accounting for 60 percent of our exports. But it has been estimated that the global impact of online piracy to the US economy is $58 billion in lost income.
We cannot and should not tolerate this theft – and many in Congress agree. Last September, Senators Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont and Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah introduced legislation (S. 3804, called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act) that would provide enhanced remedies to cut these rogue sites off from the US market. That bill had an additional 18 cosponsors from across the political spectrum and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a unanimous 19-0 vote. It was also supported by a wide range of businesses and labor organizations who all realize that theft of our IP is the theft of our jobs.
Some anti-IP activists have argued that the Leahy rogue sites legislation could potentially shut down websites through a blacklist. Those who make that argument either don’t know or ignore the fact that the provision of the legislation that authorized the Justice Department to create a blacklist was removed during the formal committee consideration of the bill last November. The reality is that an order to stop doing business or linking to a site could only come from a federal court, not as a result of placement on any list.
A balanced bill
The legislation is carefully crafted to address a major problem while at the same time respecting our constitutional rights and traditions of due process and free speech. The best way to a “free and open Internet” is not by allowing criminals to pollute the Internet with dangerous counterfeit goods, including potentially fatal drugs and malware. The best way to the Internet we all want is through the reasonable enforcement of laws that protect American jobs and American consumers, allowing legitimate voices to thrive in a safer, more-vibrant marketplace.
Congress should reintroduce and pass legislation to address the rogue-site issue this year. Readers who would like to learn more about this issue should visit www.fightonlinetheft.com.
Steve Tepp is senior director of Internet Counterfeiting and Piracy for the Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC) at the US Chamber of Commerce. He formerly worked as senior counsel for Policy and International Affairs at the US Copyright Office and an attorney specializing in intellectual property for the Senate Judiciary Committee on the staff of then-Chairman Orrin Hatch.