Berman planning international fight against piracy

Rep. Howard Berman took advantage of the two-week recess in Congress to hold a field hearing on copyright in the digital age on his home turf in Van Nuys, Calif.

With Hollywood as his constituency, Berman has a keen interest in attaching his name to legislative efforts to curb digital piracy by shoring up the country’s intellectual property laws.

Berman, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, announced the launch of new campaign at Monday’s hearing, pledging to partner with foreign policymakers to develop a coordinated strategy to take the fight against piracy global.

Hard numbers are difficult to come by when trying to measure the impact of digital theft, and critics of the often heavy-handed tactics of the entertainment industry in its effort to defend its intellectual property call them overstated.

Nevertheless, Berman floated figures from several groups, including the representatives of the movie and music industries quantifying the losses. In 2007, copyright infringement is blamed for $18.3 billion in trade losses, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce tallies 750,000 jobs lost each year due to the counterfeit trade.

“The United States and its trading partners rely heavily on investments in intellectual property to drive our economies,” Berman said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the incentives and profits for engaging in piracy are high, and the risks of being apprehended and sanctioned are low in many countries around the world. Piracy of copyrighted materials is not a victimless crime and its global repercussions must be addressed.”

Berman promised to introduce legislation he said would help enhance the profile of intellectual-property protections overseas.

Digital-rights groups like Public Knowledge, an outspoken advocate for an update of the country’s copyright laws, warn against overly aggressive copyright enforcement tactics. Techniques such as deep-packet inspection that copyright holders could use to protect their content have troubling implications for consumer privacy and the ideal of a nondiscriminatory Internet, Public Knowledge has said. The group also argues that the copyright precedent established in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act has failed to keep up with a Web 2.0 world of mash-ups and user-generated content.

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