Business reboots copyright law

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said its top priority on intellectual property issues is pushing Congress to pass a law that tackles online copyright infringement and trade in counterfeit goods, setting up a potential clash between business interests and free-speech advocates.

Chamber officials also want to ensure that any U.S. free-trade pacts contain strong protections for U.S.-made goods and that the White House gets additional resources to fight copyright crime, according to letters that Chamber officials sent to the White House and Congress today.

Some members of the nation’s powerful business lobby — from record labels to Hollywood studios to the pharmaceutical industry — are ailing because of online copyright infringement and the sale of counterfeit goods on the Web.

Topping the Chamber’s IP priority list is for lawmakers to pass legislation this year aimed at shutting down websites that offer pirated goods or infringing content. The group supported Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy’s Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, which the committee approved last fall but which was not brought to the floor. The COICA would allow federal authorities to seek court orders to shut down websites with infringing content by seizing their domain names.

The bill, however, was thwarted by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who echoed public interest group concerns that the measure would chill free speech online.

Chamber officials said some members of the House and Senate are interested in renewing attempts and that the timing may be in their favor this year, given that some of the thornier legislative battles over health care and taxes are out of the way.

“In a year where megabills were dominating the agenda, it’s harder for some of these things to get time to be considered in Congress. But this is a year where Congress can really focus on getting these really important pieces of [intellectual property] legislation done,” David Hirschmann, president of the Chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Center, told POLITICO. “It’s a real opportunity.”

With the next round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations kicking off this month in Chile, the Chamber also wants the White House to ensure the trade agreement mirrors the same strong IP protections in the South Korea trade deal that President Barack Obama recently signed.

“The bar should be there or higher,” Hirschmann said.

In addition, White House IP Chief Victoria Espinel needs permanent staff and funding to implement the governmentwide IP enforcement strategy released last June, the Chamber argued.

“We’re not doing a good enough job protecting the consumer, protecting jobs and protecting IP,” Hirschmann said.

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