Lawmaker Calls for Rethinking Piracy Fight

WASHINGTON — To effectively combat digital piracy, the United States needs to rethink its education efforts and band together with the international community, Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., said today.

In a luncheon keynote here at the Global Copyright Summit, an international forum for rights owners and copyright advocates, Wexler said that the approach copyright defenders have taken to protecting intellectual property as the “Napster generation” came of age has left too many American indifferent to its value.

“Those of us who understand the importance on intellectual property law have failed to do the job of educating others on our point of view,” he said. “The truth is we have a great story to tell, but we must tell it better.”

Wexler was short on the specifics of how this new advocacy program would work, but he described it as an outreach effort that would reach a new generation on its native turf with a message that resonated, which presumably would be a departure from some of the heavy-handed threats put forth by groups like the Recording Industry Association of America.

“We cannot believe that just traditional advocacy is nearly enough,” he said.

Though he came out in favor of a more circumspect educational campaign, Wexler wasn’t calling for backing off of enforcement penalties.

Far from it, his impassioned speech was a full-throated endorsement for the “unequivocal message that theft of intellectual property … will not be tolerated.”

Wexler picked up on a favorite refrain of the anti-piracy crowd, claiming that intellectual property is one of the few areas in which the United States continues to enjoy a trade surplus.

In doing so, he framed piracy as an economic issue, mentioning a recent survey by the Business Software Alliance that estimated the industry lost $53 billion in global revenue last year due to piracy. Staggering figures like that are ample evidence that piracy is “crippling American businesses overseas,” amounting to an untold number of lost jobs.

“These jobs are more important than ever based on our economic crisis,” Wexler said. “It is truly remarkable that some groups and interests see this as the time to dismantle key protections.”

As an example of the kind of war the defenders of intellectual property are fighting, Wexler looked to Sweden, where the upstart Pirate Party just won a seat in the European Parliament.

Sweden’s Pirate Party, which advocates for laxer copyright laws, enjoyed a populist swell following the jail sentences handed down to the founders of the file-sharing site Pirate Bay.

But the pro-IP camp is fighting an enemy that, often under the mantle of the “copyleft,” argues for relaxing intellectual property protections using simplistic or specious arguments, Wexler said. Too often, the struggle is reductively presented as a generational conflict, where the relics of the analog age are fighting to protect a failed business model from the incursions of the digital vanguard.

“This young generation doesn’t necessarily see intellectual property as worth protecting,” he said.

“What a blogger in Sweden writes in a few minutes would take hours or days for the copyright community to answer [in full],” he added. “Our voices are getting increasingly lost in a sea of misinformation from anti-intellectual property community members.”

The solution? In addition to rethinking consumer education and IP advocacy, Wexler took a page from Rep. Howard Berman’s playbook, calling for a coordinated international approach to fighting piracy.

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