WASHINGTON -- The top White House copyright cop said on Tuesday that the administration is working aggressively to implement a wide-ranging strategy to crack down on digital piracy and the flow of counterfeit goods, saying that protecting U.S. intellectual property interests is a central pillar of the government's efforts to nurse the economy back to health.
"Protection of our innovation and protection of our creativity is an essential part of our plan for economic recovery," U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel said in a keynote address here at a policy conference hosted by the Future of Music Coalition.
"Protection of intellectual property will increase exports, it will create jobs," Espinel said. "Lack of protection is a threat to our businesses, a threat to our consumers and it is an issue that unites labor and business, it unites small and large companies, it unites Democrats and Republicans."
A particular area of concern for the administration is the United States' relationship with foreign trading partners. Efforts to harmonize the cross-border rules and protections governing intellectual property have been underway since 2008 in the form of a series of negotiations crafting the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which participating nations aim to finalize this year.
The final round of talks concluded on Saturday in Tokyo, leading U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the lead U.S. delegate to the talks, to conclude, "We are almost across the finish line in this negotiation."
But the ACTA proceedings have been steeped in controversy from the outset, both for the secrecy surrounding the talks (stakeholders who view drafts of the agreement are required to sign non-disclosure agreements), and for the concerns raised by some digital-rights groups that what began as a counterfeiting agreement is snowballing into a vehicle for the entertainment industry to implement draconian measures to deter digital piracy.
Groups such as Public Knowledge, for instance, have warned against any permutation of a "three-strikes" rule, by which Internet service providers would be authorized or directed to cut off service to repeat offenders who had been observed downloading or sharing copyright content without permission. For critics, such a regime raises privacy concerns arising from ISPs' monitoring of users' content transmissions, and invites the possibility of false positives, whereby lawful content could be blocked or users penalized for committing no infraction.
But Espinel said today that she doesn't believe there is an "inherent conflict" between protecting Internet users' basic civil liberties and enacting a tough IP enforcement regime. She added that the administration has high hopes for ACTA, an agreement she sees as long overdue, given that the last major multinational intellectual property accord was forged in 1994, at the very onset of the commercial Internet.
"I think it is clear that we need a new international standard for enforcement, and we are very hopeful that ACTA can be successfully completed," she said, adding that the Tokyo draft should be available for public inspection in short order. "It is our expectation that there will be a text released this week."
At the same time, the limitations of ACTA are apparent, given that many of the countries most closely linked with widespread piracy, notably China, aren't involved in the talks.
"China is a country of particular concern," Espinel said, noting that the administration is seeking other channels to protect U.S. intellectual property rights in that nation.