February 12, 2010 / 8:38 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. announces intellectual property watchdog

* US Justice Dept creates intellectual property task force

* Formation prompted by widespread copyright violations

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is forming an intellectual property task force because of what some estimate to be billions of dollars in losses from copyright piracy.

The movie and software industries have been hard hit by piracy, often international. The book industry is starting to be affected because of electronic books. The recording industry says the vast majority of music consumed in China, once a center of illegal CD copying, is now downloaded illegally.

The Justice Department said on Friday that the creation of the task force followed a meeting called in December by Vice President Joe Biden, which Attorney General Eric Holder and other cabinet officials attended along with a who’s who from the movie, music and book industries.

The attendees included Motion Picture Association of America Chairman Dan Glickman as well as top executives of the Recording Industry Association of America, Sony Pictures Entertainment (6758.T), Warner Bros. and Time Warner TWX.N, Viacom VIAb.N, General Electric’s (GE.N) NBC Universal, Warner Music WMG.N, Vivendi’s (VIV.PA) Universal Music and Walt Disney Co (DIS.N).

“This task force will allow us to identify and implement a multifaceted strategy with our federal, state and international partners to effectively combat this type of crime,” said Holder.

Copyright theft costs companies more than $25 billion each year, according to Howard Gantman, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America.

Public Knowledge’s Art Brodsky said he hoped the task force’s emphasis would be on shutting down Chinese DVD and CD factories rather than going after individuals.

“There is balance in copyright law,” said Brodsky, who sought to defend “the person who maybe posts a song ... someone who has no intent of making money off it. The idea that you can be fined several thousand dollars for a 99 cent song is out of touch with reality.”

The task force will be chaired by the deputy attorney general and other members will include officials from various divisions within the Justice Department. Gary Grindler is the current acting deputy attorney general.

The task force is to coordinate with state and local law enforcement with an increased focus on links between piracy and international organized crime. It will also coordinate with the office of Victoria Espinel, the intellectual property enforcement coordinator.

“The Justice Department’s new task force will play a critical role in supporting the Administration’s ongoing efforts to protect American intellectual property and the millions of jobs that depend on it,” said Espinel.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry has estimated that for every song purchased, 20 are downloaded illegally — losses that could reach billions of dollars. (Editing by Gary Hill)

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