One U.S. senator questioned why search engines and Internet service providers don't block customers' access to pirated music and movies online, and representatives of the U.S. movie and music industries praised a new plan by President Barack Obama's administration to crack down on intellectual property violations, during a Senate hearing Wednesday.
Senators and witnesses at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing roundly praised a new plan to fight intellectual property (IP) violations from Victoria Espinel, the U.S. White House's first intellectual property enforcement coordinator.
The IP enforcement plan, released Tuesday, is an "important step forward" in fighting copyright violations, Barry Meyer, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment, told the Senate Judiciary Committee. Strong government support of copyright owners is "crucial" for fighting IP theft, he said.
Witnesses, including representatives of the AFL-CIO, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and music publishing firm Carlin America, told the committee IP violations are costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
"It would not surprise me if we are on the losing end of the biggest criminal transfer of wealth in the history of the planet right now," said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat. "Every [U.S.] industry is just being Hoovered out."
Whitehouse questioned why Internet users can find piracy Web sites with "four or five mouse clicks." In some cases, credit card companies take payments from sites that sell pirated music and movies, he said, although he didn't name specific sites.
"If I want to download stolen products ... I get there on a search engine that is a legitimate search engine, and I download it across an Internet service provider," he said. "You have these very legitimate businesses that are participating in and supporting the online piracy."
Whitehouse questioned why the music and movie industries weren't working out deals with search engines, ISPs and other businesses to shut down piracy sites. Whitehouse asked why the entertainment industry did not threaten lawsuits if the tech industry doesn't cooperate.
The movie industry is working with ISPs to police their networks, but it's hard for ISPs to make the distinction between legitimate and pirated copies, Meyer said. "We're not finding an awful lot of resistance on principle, what we're finding is that there are some technical obstacles that we have to face together," he said.
Representatives of Google, AT&T, Verizon Communications and Comcast didn't immediately respond to a request for comments. No representatives of search engines or ISPs testified at the hearing.
In addition to the White House IP enforcement plan, the committee will explore new legislation to create more penalties for people who profit from IP theft, said Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and committee chairman.
The White House's new plan, called the Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement, recommends that U.S. diplomats put pressure on countries that refuse to shut down piracy Web sites, and calls on the U.S. government to check contractors for unauthorized software.
Under Espinel's plan, the U.S. government would also provide training to local and state law enforcement officials on IP enforcement, and the plan encouraged Web content owners, Internet service providers, advertisers and other online businesses to work together to reduce copyright violations.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is email@example.com.