The debate over the proper role of government may well be at an all-time high. But one aspect of that role that almost everyone can agree on is, to quote the armed forces oath of enlistment, to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
This past week, the Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice did just that by seizing, pursuant to court order, the domain names of 150 websites dedicated to the theft of constitutionally protected intellectual property (IP). These rogue websites offer counterfeit versions of almost any product imaginable, from medicine to footwear, as well as illegal copies of books, software, music and movies. In so doing, the criminal operators of rogue sites deprive honest and hard-working Americans of the fruits of their labor and the ability to support their families.
It would be a mistake to assume that the only people who visit rogue sites are those looking for obvious knock-offs. Insidiously, rogue sites are designed to appear legitimate and deceive consumers into purchasing products that are made without any of the usual quality control and thus are often dangerously defective. Even the downloading sites pose a threat to consumers as they are laden with malware.
While ICE and the Justice Department are doing what they can, many rogue sites exist entirely in foreign countries, beyond the reach of our law enforcement and yet still able to steal our most innovative and creative products and threaten the 19 million American jobs in IP-intensive industries. This problem cannot be shrugged off as insignificant; rogue sites garner over 53 billion visits every year.
That is why an incredibly broad array of voices have spoken out on the need for legislation to cut off foreign rogue sites from the U.S. marketplace. Forty-three state attorneys general, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Fraternal Order of Police have joined a coalition of over 350 companies, trade associations and professional organizations that all agree that Congress must act.
Rogues sites legislation in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act, has an incredible 40 cosponsors. And the House bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, has 25 cosponsors, with both lists being thoroughly bipartisan. Unfortunately, the public debate on these bills has become tainted with overblown language and flat-out inaccuracies. Some come to the debate with a genuine desire to improve the bills and that is welcome. The goal should be a commercially reasonable law that is effective in the effort to stem the tide of online theft. But those who are simply trying to kill the bill, who pretend that the theft of American jobs is not at stake, have no credibility.
Rogue sites pose a clear and present danger to American jobs and American consumers. Let the legislative process address reasonable concerns, but let’s make sure that process moves forward without delay.
Steve Tepp is the chief intellectual property counsel for the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.