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White House Calls For Stricter Copyright Laws, Greater Enforcement Authority

March 15, 2011

The Obama Administration is calling for greater law enforcement authority and tougher penalties, including prison in some cases, for people convicted of copyright infringement.

The White House's Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, Victoria Espinel, submitted 20 recommendations to Congress on Tuesday aimed at cracking down on copyright infringement on items ranging from drugs to music and military equipment.

Espinel urged Congress to make illegally streaming copyrighted content online a felony offense in some instances.

Online piracy and counterfeiting, her report notes, are "significant concerns" for the White House. Such infringement causes "economic harm and threaten the health and safety of American consumers," Espine report reads.

"Foreign-based and foreign-controlled websites and web services raise particular concerns for U.S. enforcement efforts. We are aware that members of Congress share our goal of reducing online infringement and are considering measures to increase law enforcement authority to combat websites that are used to distribute or provide access to infringing products."

The list suggests that Congress enact longer sentences for many counterfeiting offenses, including selling fake military or law enforcement items, trade secrets, or bogus drugs. The White House also calls for wiretap authority in counterfeiting and trademark investigations.

The recommendations gathered praise from a range of groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which urged the administration to make the U.S. a "miserable place for counterfeiters and pirates."

"We are particularly encouraged to see several of our top legislative priorities covered by the white paper, especially the issue of rogue websites," said Rob Calia, senior director for Counterfeiting and Piracy at the Chamber's Global IP Center. "The paper makes clear that the Administration shares Congress' commitment towards combating websites dedicated to the sale or distribution of infringing products."

The Motion Picture Association of America also lauded Espinel, the first White House IP enforcement coordinator ever, for "recognizing the danger posed to our workforce by theft, both in the online and physical marketplace, and by making the protection of the creative workers and their craft a top priority."

Espinel included a proposal to charge radio stations royalty fees for playing live music performances, a move that drew support from the Recording Industry Association of America Tuesday.

"We appreciate the administration's recommendation that Congress enact a performance right which would finally close a longstanding and unfair loophole in copyright law that denies compensation to artists and record labels when their music is played over terrestrial radio," said RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol in a statement.

The National Association of Broadcasters was predictably irritated.

"This is hardly a new policy position from the White House," NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton said in a statement.

"NAB remains unalterably opposed to legislation creating an onerous, jobs-killing fee on America's hometown radio stations without offsetting provisions and benefits that recognize the the unparalleled promotional value of radio airplay."

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