On May 14, the U.S. government said it planned to beef up criminal laws to provide stiffer penalties for copyright thieves, including seizing their illicit profits. The move comes as Washington intensifies its anti-piracy campaign abroad, including dragging China to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for alleged copyright abuse.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he sent a new legislative initiative to Congress that would give authorities more muscle to act against counterfeiters and copyright pirates, especially on health and safety cases. The "Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007" would "provide stronger penalties for repeat offenders and increase the maximum penalty for counterfeiting offenses if the defendant knowingly or recklessly causes serious bodily injury or death," he said.
"And the bill would hit the criminals in their wallets by strengthening restitution provisions, and making sure they forfeit all of their illicit profits as well as any property used to commit their crimes," Gonzales told a coalition of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Gonzales did not provide details of the proposed legislation, but said the administration of President George W. Bush was giving special emphasis on prosecuting health and safety cases in its bid to protect American businesses and their intellectual property. "While crimes like IP theft may appear harmless to some, we know that the reality is much different. Imagine a heart patient undergoing emergency surgery at a hospital that unknowingly purchased substandard counterfeit surgical equipment or medications," he said.
Based on Gonzales's figures, the U.S. convicted 57% more defendants for criminal copyright and trademark offenses in 2006 than a year earlier. Of those convictions, the number of defendants receiving prison terms of more than two years increased even more sharply -- up 130%, he said.
Counterfeiting and piracy cost the U.S. economy about $250 billion annually, have led to the loss of more than 750,000 American jobs and exposes consumers to dangerous and defective products, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a report.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007