White House, Federal Agencies Launch Public Awareness Campaign Against IP Piracy

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By Tamlin H. Bason

In the coming months the public will be inundated with anti-piracy messages, delivered through a number of mediums including television, radio and print advertisements.

“For far too long, the sale of counterfeit, defective, and dangerous goods has been perceived as ‘business as usual,' ” Attorney General Eric Holder said during a Nov. 29 press conference at the White House that served as the Intellectual Property Theft Campaign launch.

But, Holder said, “IP crimes are anything but victimless.” Accordingly, the Departments of Justice, Commerce, and Homeland Security have teamed up with the National Crime Prevention Council in order to educate the public about the dangers of purchasing counterfeit and pirated goods.

Lack of Public Awareness of Dangers of IP Theft

Ann M. Harkins, the president and CEO of the NCPC, said that a comprehensive target audience study was conducted before the advertisements were created. She said that the results indicated that many Americans—especially those in the 18-to-30 age group—either do not understand, or do not care that they are harming the economy and causing people to lose their jobs when they purchase counterfeit and pirated products.

“The lure of the bargain overcomes the moral compass almost every time, and there is a marked lack of public awareness about the dangers and the effects of IP theft,” Harkins said.

To reach this audience, the NCPC joined with MTV Networks to produce a video that conveys the message that an act as simple as purchasing a bootleg DVD on the street can have the effect of funding criminal gangs, many of which use proceeds made through counterfeiting to fund some of their more violent activities.

John Morton, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency touted the success of the “Operation in Our Sites” initiative. Just one day prior to the press conference ICE, in collaboration with the DOJ and the FBI, announced the seizure of 150 websites that were selling counterfeit and pirated goods.

The most recent seizures brought the total number of seized domain names up to 350 since the operation was first launched in June 2010 . Once a domain name is seized, users who try to access the website by typing in the name of the website in a search engine or by typing in the domain name in their browser's address bar are redirected to a page informing them that the site has been seized by ICE.

Morton said that the seized sites have received more than 70 millions hits after being seized.

Weak Economy Makes IP Protection Critical

The speakers agreed that the fragile economy makes intellectual property protection even more critical.

“As our country continues to recover from once-in-a-generation economic challenges, the need to safeguard intellectual property rights, and to protect Americans from IP crimes, has never been more urgent,” Holder said.

White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel said, “We have to protect what we create, and we cannot let others unfairly take and profit from our innovation and our creativity or we put our existing jobs and our competitive future at risk.”

Rebbecca Blank, acting deputy secretary of Commerce, said, “Only when American ideas and American inventions are protected so that they can receive the benefits of their innovations and ingenuity, can American businesses prosper and the American economy continue to grow.”