Biden Slams Online Piracy: ‘What the Hell?’

The vice president pushed for stronger trade agreements to slow the “theft” of American intellectual property.

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the 2nd Annual Creativity Conference presented by the Motion Picture Association of America at The Newseum on May 2, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
May 2, 2014, 11:38 a.m.

Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden on Fri­day force­fully cri­ti­cized for­eign coun­tries that al­low pir­acy of movies, mu­sic, and oth­er tech­no­lo­gic­al products, and called for a “glob­al eco­nom­ic or­der” that strongly guards against the theft of in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­erty.

Biden offered new trade pacts as one way to cur­tail pir­acy in oth­er coun­tries, an activ­ity that has ex­ploded in re­cent years in places like China and In­done­sia.

“Today the face of pir­acy in your in­dustry is chan­ging,” Biden said dur­ing key­note re­marks at the Cre­ativ­ity Con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton. “Now the face of pir­acy is a com­puter screen in a far-off coun­try send­ing a video around the world at the click of a mouse to rob you, steal you, of what is yours.”

He ad­ded that steal­ing in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­erty was akin to steal­ing phys­ic­al items, such as cars.

“What the hell? What the heck’s the dif­fer­ence?” he said with a shrug.

Biden, who was a fierce de­fend­er of in­tel­lec­tu­al-prop­erty rights dur­ing his long ten­ure in the Sen­ate, said that on­line pir­acy not only stunts U.S. growth but squanders oth­er na­tion’s eco­nom­ic po­ten­tial as well.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4930) }}

“What’s at stake here is a lot more than just the val­ues of ideas,” Biden said. “It lit­er­ally is the char­ac­ter of the coun­tries in­volved in this theft. How can a na­tion call it­self a law-abid­ing na­tion when they are steal­ing the most valu­able in­tel­lec­tu­al ideas of our coun­try?”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been work­ing on copy­right agree­ments through the Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, which some left-lean­ing and open In­ter­net groups op­pose. Protests over trans­par­ency and oth­er is­sues have stalled ne­go­ti­ations, and some law­makers have in­dic­ated they may be un­will­ing to give the pres­id­ent “fast-track au­thor­ity” on trade agree­ments, which would set guidelines for ne­go­ti­ations in ex­change for only up-and-down votes from Con­gress.

Also speak­ing Fri­day at the Cre­ativ­ity Con­fer­ence was House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Good­latte, who said con­sumers who en­gage in on­line pir­acy by down­load­ing songs and shows for free will ul­ti­mately harm the in­dus­tries pro­du­cing that con­tent be­cause they “can’t com­pete with free.”

“If they want to see the next great mo­tion pic­ture that costs two or three hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars to make, they’ve got to pay for it,” Good­latte told ABC’s Jon Karl. “If you don’t re­ward the cre­at­ors, you’re not go­ing to get the cre­ativ­ity.”

Good­latte co­chairs the Con­gres­sion­al In­ter­na­tion­al Anti-Pir­acy Caucus, and said he was think­ing about chan­ging its name be­cause the word “pir­acy” lends “some ro­man­ti­cism to it.”

The Vir­gin­ia Re­pub­lic­an, who once strongly backed the con­tro­ver­sial Stop On­line Pir­acy Act be­fore its grass­roots-led de­mise, has tasked his com­mit­tee with a year-long re­view of the na­tion’s copy­right laws.

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