Congress to Monitor Canada, Spain for Copyright Violations

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A group of U.S. lawmakers plan to keep a close eye on five countries, including Canada and Spain, for what they see as a lack of protections for copyright.

The Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus listed Russia, China, Mexico, Canada and Spain on their annual watch list for 2009, the group announced Wednesday. Those countries are on the caucus' list despite a report released last week saying the greatest dollar loss for software piracy during 2008 was in the U.S.

Of an estimated US$53 billion in software piracy losses in 2008, $9.1 billion came from the U.S., according to a study released by the Business Software Alliance (BSA). The U.S., however, has one of the lowest piracy rates in the world, at 20 percent, the study said.

Some critics disagree with the BSA's numbers, saying not everyone who pirates software would otherwise buy it.

Copyright infringement is a "global problem," Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said in a statement.

"The U.S. is far and away the world's largest producer and exporter of the creative works that entertain, inform and educate the world," he added. "However, copyright piracy results in billions of dollars in lost revenue for the U.S. each year and even greater losses to the U.S. economy in terms of reduced job growth and exports. While the U.S. is the world's leader in intellectual property protections, the problem does not stop at our borders."

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, said that during the current recession, it's more important than ever for the U.S. to protect intellectual property. "American entertainment and software companies create millions of jobs, generate millions of dollars in tax revenue, and drive much of our country's research and development," he said in a statement. "Piracy threatens those jobs, those revenues and the value of that research, and we need bipartisan solutions to stop it."

Here's what a briefing paper distributed by the congressional caucus had to say about the countries on its new watch list:

China: The Chinese government "has permitted piracy to fully contaminate the online marketplace via an array of nefarious illegal" sites. Despite the government promising to crack down on piracy, "little action has been taken against infringing online activities."

Russia: The Russia government has taken some positive steps in recent years, and there have been "modest" declines in software piracy. However, "we are disappointed that there has been inadequate progress in addressing Internet and optical disc piracy through the effective enforcement of criminal laws with deterrent penalties."

Canada: The country does not have legislation or legal rulings that "clearly provide an effective means for copyright holders to protect their works from online piracy. This legal void has made Canada an attractive location for illicit Web sites, and Canada has regrettably become known as a 'safe haven' for Internet pirates."

Spain: The government there has not taken an active role in pursing copyright infringers. "Peer-to-peer piracy in Spain is widely perceived as an acceptable cultural phenomenon, and the situation is exacerbated by a government policy that has essentially decriminalized illicit P2P file sharing."

Mexico: Government officials have shown some interest in working on copyright issues, but piracy continues. Only a handful of state governments are pursuing copyright infringers. "Piracy involving hard goods, piracy on the Internet, unauthorized camcording in theaters, and unauthorized photocopying at universities continued at high levels last year."

The BSA applauded the caucus' release of the watch list, although the trade group sees some different countries at the top of its infringing list, compared to the caucus' focus on overall copyright infringement, said Dale Curtis, vice president of communications at BSA. For example, several countries in Europe have similar software piracy rates to Spain's 42 percent, he said.

But including Canada on the list made perfect sense to Curtis. Canada "has fallen behind its peers" in developing copyright protection laws, he said.

The caucus' watch list will help raise awareness of the problem, Curtis added. "In a time of economic difficulty, we can't turn our back on this problem," he said.

The Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus, formed in 2003, has more than 70 lawmakers as members.

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