Imagine the following scenario: Your father, who has a chronic disease, goes online to buy the prescription drug he needs to treat his condition. He visits an online pharmacy that offers the drug for much less than he normally pays. The shape, color, packaging and even markings of the drugs look like the real thing. But rather than containing the active ingredients that are critical to treating his condition, the medicines he purchased online are counterfeit, containing toxic materials that could kill him.
Let’s consider another story: You are looking to buy the latest limited edition of a popular perfume as a Christmas present for your niece. Unfortunately, the product you purchased online was a counterfeit that contains antifreeze, chemicals and harmful bacteria.
In the 21st century, the crimes of counterfeiting and piracy are no longer taking place just on street corners or in dark alleys — they are entrenched in the online marketplace. Furthermore, the sale of counterfeit and pirated products over the Internet is not exclusive to medicines and consumer goods. In fact, this growing theft of America’s products and creativeness includes movies, books, music, electronics, computer software and apparel.
But the dangers are not limited to consumer health and safety. Ultimately, these criminal activities stifle our economic vitality, steal American jobs and undermine our ability to create and innovate.
Consumers are increasingly vulnerable to intricately designed websites with the look and feel of legitimate e-commerce sites. These sites come complete with click-to-pay systems, fraudulent documents that make them seem authentic and are embellished with corporate advertising.
Intellectual property infringement over the Internet is real and rampant. If left unchecked, America’s economy will pay a hefty price.
Fortunately, the U.S. government recognizes the importance of protecting America’s intellectual property and understands the urgency of cracking down on online counterfeiting and piracy.
Last May, the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus included a list of rogue websites that facilitate digital theft in its annual watch list of countries failing to live up to their international obligations to protect IP rights. Most notably, the group expanded this year’s list to include rogue websites that facilitate digital theft and the countries that provide safe harbor for them.
A month later, Victoria Espinel, the intellectual property enforcement coordinator for President Barack Obama’s administration, released the nation’s first national intellectual property enforcement strategy to harmonize and advance government-wide enforcement efforts. One particular recommendation of the strategy is to expand and publicize the Notorious Market list in the U.S. Trade Representative’s annual Special 301 Report to include a compilation of these rogue websites.
That same month, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced the launch of “Operation In Our Sites,” a new initiative created to combat counterfeiting and piracy over the Internet. The initiative’s first accomplishment was the seizure of seven domain names that were among the most prolific at illegally distributing copyrighted materials.
And last week, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced ground-breaking legislation to crack down on websites that primarily engage in online piracy and counterfeiting — the “worst of the worst” bad actors on the Internet. The legislation, known as the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, will provide enhanced legal tools to disrupt the business models of counterfeiters and pirates.
The life-saving drugs we rely on, the latest entertainment we enjoy and the range of consumer goods we’ve come to trust represent some of the best America has to offer. Companies and individuals who bring these to us can do so because they know that strong IP laws, based on long-standing international rights and norms — and supported by our legal system and enforcement efforts — will protect their innovations and creations from theft.
We cannot afford to stand back and allow the increasingly sophisticated online counterfeiters and pirates to steal America’s products and creations, in turn killing our jobs, endangering our consumers and hampering our economic growth.
Strengthened enforcement efforts such as Operation in Our Sites, harmonized government-wide plans such as the National IP Enforcement Strategy and proactive legislation such as the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act are all critical elements of a national plan to thwart the growing scourge of IP theft.
Congress should support and act on this legislation immediately to further our fight against counterfeiting and piracy. Doing so would help keep our consumers safe, while affording our businesses the opportunity to prosper and grow our economy.
Steve Tepp is senior director of Internet counterfeiting and piracy for the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He formerly worked as senior counsel for policy and international affairs at the U.S. Copyright Office and as a lawyer specializing in intellectual property for the Senate Judiciary Committee on the staff of then-Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).