Hey, you cheated. From the time we were in kindergarten – if not even earlier – most of us began to understand what that meant. Whether it was a furtive glance at someone else’s test answers, or a player breaking the rules of team sports, we came to understand that cheating gave the other person an unfair advantage. If we’re all playing on the same field, we have to all play by the same rules.
The global marketplace is a field, albeit it a massive one. But the concept of cheating still applies. That’s why countries create free trade agreements, for example, because they want to make sure if someone else is joining the game, they understand the rules.
Intellectual property rights are a supremely important “rule,” providing the incentive for investment, research and creativity. And countries or businesses that ignore this principle have an unfair advantage – no matter the industry or product or country of origin.
World leaders understand this, and they increasingly understand the implications of intellectual property theft run amok. In the United States, the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus is one entity that holds trading partners’ feet to the fire on this issue.
At a press conference on Capitol Hill today releasing the Caucus’ annual watch list of countries that fall short on IP rights enforcement, Caucus Co-Chair Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) called out the cheaters on the field. “Our trading partners have to stop looking the other way when American intellectual property is stolen in plain sight,” he said.
In just one example of the ramifications, Business Software Alliance President and CEO Robert Holleyman explained how one form of intellectual property theft is devastating not only to the software segment of the copyright community, but to other players as well: “Companies that steal software tools they need to make products and do business in the global economy have an unfair competitive advantage over companies that pay for their software. That undercuts legitimate product sales and imperils job creation.”
Mr. Holleyman expands on this point in a recent oped on the issue of software piracy in The Hill newspaper.
Add the Internet marketplace to the equation, and the complexities and consequences are magnified many times. Caucus Co-Chair Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said, “digital piracy is so pervasive it threatens to shut out legitimate content online.”
Caucus Co-Chairman Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) added, “The Internet is not a lawless freeway where anything goes. Protecting intellectual property rights is a global fight.”
His comments reflect similar sentiment coming from this week’s G-8 summit, where enforcement of copyright piracy was among initiatives discussed by France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, who admonished Internet anarchists that the Internet “doesn’t have a flag, it doesn’t have a slogan, it belongs to everyone.”
And in a remark perhaps aimed at Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who suggested last week that his company would not abide by law passed by Congress and signed by the President to enforce intellectual property rights online, Sarkozy said, “The universe you represent is not a parallel universe. Nobody should forget that governments are the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people in our democracies. To forget this is to risk democratic chaos and anarchy.”
Chaos and anarchy indeed. The Internet is an incredible tool that facilitates commerce, communication, education and social interaction like nothing before it. But to allow unchecked theft – whether in back alleys or inside company cubicles or in the vast online space – is turning the global marketplace into a street brawl where there will be no fair competition.