Driving the Internet and the American economy forward

Mike McCurry, Arts+LabsAmerica's most important contribution to the global economy at this moment is the Internet. It is certainly not a creation "made in the USA" but it embodies things that will keep America great well into the future: the free transfer of ideas and discourse across national boundaries, the fluid movement of capital for innovation and research, the direct connection of people from different walks of life with one another. Americans can be arguably proud--even forgiving Al Gore for a bit of overstatement--if we feel as if we invented the Internet.

But whether we created it or not, there are economic benefits that the Internet should bring to Americans who engage in the creative processes that drive the Internet forward. So this statistic will be shocking: 2.5 million jobs have been lost because of trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy, and this thievery is mostly happening online.

Rogue websites and their operators spend every minute of everyday thinking about ways to steal content from creators, producers, inventors, designers, and technologists who want to deliver their work to consumers for a fair market price. If thieves can drive that price to zero, what incentives will exist for the hard work of those who make the Internet a reality for all of us? Why should they work for nothing, or even (in some cases) why should they lose money for their efforts?

America's economy increasingly has a bedrock consisting of innovative, IP-intensive industries, ranging from entertainment and pharmaceuticals, to technology and its transmission, to luxury goods and software. These industries, and the 19 million people they employ, are directly threatened by rogue sites, which add absolutely no value to our economy. Operators of illegitimate websites do not pay taxes, they do not innovate, and they do not care for consumer safety. What they do best is steal.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is engaged in a highly successful effort known as "Operation in Our Sites," which manages to shutter over 100 websites used as fronts for illegal cyber enterprises. But many rogue sites operate in foreign countries, beyond the reach of our law enforcement officials.

Last September, the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (S. 3804) was introduced in an effort to curb the rampant and dangerous digital black market of foreign rogue sites. This piece of legislation, which garnered overwhelming bipartisan support, would provide law enforcement enhanced tools to make these rogue websites inaccessible to the U.S. market. If not perfect, it faced the right direction.

This isn't a matter of suing college kids who downloaded pirated music; this is about shutting down the worst of the worst infringers of intellectual property. The criminals behind rogue sites are sophisticated and well-financed, luring consumers to sites that give every appearance of being legitimate, but which are in fact offering shoddy, dangerous products as well as computer viruses and identity theft.

The naysayers miscast this attempt at law enforcement that safeguards online consumers as an unyielding effort by the government to censor the Internet. The truth of the matter is that it is a fundamental role of the government to protect its citizens from theft and harm. This is precisely why rogue sites legislation is needed. Every marketplace needs rules to protect people from fraud and theft, while avoiding rules that are overbearing. Rogue sites legislation strikes the right balance. It will disrupt the pirates' and counterfeiters' businesses and deprive them of what they want most--our money. By disrupting the business models of the pirates and counterfeiters, rogue sites legislation would make it less profitable and more difficult for those who wish to engage in blatant IP theft. 

It will take a strong, sustained effort to stop Internet thieves and profiteers. Congress can make a significant contribution to that effort with appropriate rogue site legislation to strengthen law enforcement tools. In the interest of American citizens and businesses, it is time for Congress to take action by reintroducing--and hopefully enacting--rogue sites legislation as quickly as possible.

Mike McCurry is co-chairman of Arts+Labs, a collaboration between technology companies and creative communities that have embraced today's rich Internet environment to deliver innovative and creative digital products to consumers. Mr. McCurry served as the White House's press secretary to President Bill Clinton from 1995-1998.