Who should pay the copyright police?


Nate Anderson wrote a fascinating article last week in the Ars Technical Law & Disorder report titled Unhappy Mounties sick of being private copyright cops  

Based in part on recently released documents from the U.S. and Canada, as well as WikiLeaks postings, Anderson’s article details concerns that law enforcement officers have expressed about increasing pressure from business to arrest copyright violators.

One of the things I found so fascinating about the article was a letter sent by Stewart Baker, the Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security, sent a letter (PDF) about a trade agreement called ACTA (the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement) which Baker worried would “harm national security” by forcing his department to spend more resources defending copyrights and trademarks, which might come at the expense of investigations into terrorism or counterfeit drugs.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were even more direct according to WikiLeaks, which published a diplomatic cable from a US embassy official in Canada about alleged recording of movies in Montreal theaters. The movie industry at first claimed that 40-50 percent of all pirated movies sold around the world could be traced to camcorders in Montreal, but later backed off and reduced that number to 18 percent.

The article got me to thinking about just who should pay for investigations into copyright infringement and counterfeit branded products. On one hand, I certainly don’t want my granddaughter (who has a heart condition) given counterfeit drugs – nor do I want to buy a handbag on eBay that claims to be from my favorite designer (Kate Spade) and find out it’s a knock-off. And, as an author and the (proud) parent of a member of the Screen Actors Guild, I am in favor of copyright enforcement.

But who should pay for it? Taxpayers or the industries that benefit from law enforcement? Several of my friends from Zone Labs (a security start-up I worked with in the 90’s) are now executives at Mark Monitor.  Mark Monitor is the leader in a relatively new business segment called enterprise brand protection. 

Mark Monitor and its smaller competitors track counterfeit goods, phishing and pharming attacks, and black hat SEO (all techniques that criminals use to take legitimate business away from the companies that have built the brand reputation) and help corporations and industries fight back against the copyright and trademark pirates who cost them $680 billion a year in estimated lost revenue.

Companies can take the pirates to court, or ask for law enforcement help in shutting down and prosecuting the pirates. I understand why law enforcement doesn’t want to get “bogged down” chasing people with webcams in movie theaters. But I don’t see how rights holders can be effective against thieves who steal intellectual property or manufacture counterfeit goods without help from law enforcement.

So (for once) I think that the legislators and trade negotiators got it right by asking for more law enforcement involvement here. There is a role for both private and public funding in copyright and trademark infringement.

What do you think? Should any tax dollars be used for this – or should the burden rest solely with the rights holders?

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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2 Responses to Who should pay the copyright police?

  1. Richard says:

    What if copyright and patents were not protected?

    • debmcalister says:

      Well, for one thing, my grandchildren wouldn’t have college trust funds, since both my son and I rely on copyrights, patents, and other intellectual property for our savings and estate planning. More importantly, people wouldn’t make risky investments in new technology, new products, and new forms of entertainment. And that would leave dreamers and artists and creators of all kind in the lurch. Thanks for reading & commenting, Deb

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