The Needles

The Needles: Crash Course in IP Enforcement Strategy

Andy Chalk | 29 Jun 2010 18:04
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So how about that new Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement, eh? Surely you've heard of it. It is, after all, the U.S. government's central platform in the fight against copyright infringement, which is to say piracy, which is to say illegally copying games - and other things, of course. The government's new (and, it bears mentioning, first) IP enforcement strategy was released on June 22, accompanied by a very clear message that stealin' is stealin', and you ain't getting away with it no more.

It's not an exact quote, but it's closer than you might think. "We used to have a problem in this town saying this, but piracy is theft," U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said at a Washington D.C. press conference announcing the strategy. "Clean and simple. It's smash and grab. It ain't no different than smashing a window at Tiffany's and grabbing [merchandise]."

It is different, obviously, but I have no desire to start splitting hairs with ol' Joe and besides, what matters here isn't what he said but the fact that he said it at all. Debating whether or not copyright infringement is "theft, plain and simple" is like arguing over the best brand of raincoat while the hurricane bears down on you. It doesn't matter. The U.S. has decided to put intellectual property crime in its sights and details be damned, that's a game-changer.

"We're going to aggressively protect our intellectual property," U.S. President Barack Obama said during an address in March, putting it slightly more eloquently than the Veep. "Our single greatest asset is the innovation and the ingenuity and creativity of the American people. It is essential to our prosperity and it will only become more so in this century."

The good news, at least from the perspective of those who get off on sticking it to The Man by indulging their overblown sense of entitlement, is that games clearly aren't a priority in the new strategy. Despite the phenomenal growth of the industry, games only rated three mentions in the entire document, two of which lumped them in with other forms of entertainment media and hardware. In the eyes of the government, movies and music are still the big dogs.

The bad news is that if you eyeball it from far enough away, it all starts to look the same; IP is IP and although much of the strategy is focused on counterfeit goods ranging from circuit boards and other electronic components to cigarettes, watches, perfumes and especially pharmaceuticals, if you're hoping that somebody in power might be thinking about easing up on, say, modchip restrictions, you're in for a disappointment.

In fact, modchips are mentioned fairly early as part of the plan to "increase information sharing with rightsholders." The idea is that since it's becoming ever harder for law enforcement to tell counterfeits from the real deal, the government will start sharing information, including samples of "circumvention devices" (that's modchips) with rightsholders (that's Nintendo) to allow them to "assist in determining whether such devices violate an import prohibition." The government also plans to share "enforcement information" on those same devices in order to help rightsholders conduct their own investigations, presumably to be used in civil suits.

The strategy also lays out the need to "combat foreign-based and foreign-controlled websites that infringe American intellectual property rights." Currently, the enforcement of U.S. IP rights in other countries is "complicated" because of that whole annoying business of sovereign nations insisting on applying their own laws within their own borders. So what's the plan? It's kind of vague, actually. Bombing them back to the stone age isn't an option anymore so instead, the IP Enforcement Strategy calls for a mix of "vigorous" law enforcement and cooperation with foreign enforcement agencies, diplomacy, economic tools, interaction with the private sector and "trade policy tools."

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