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Bush administration touts rise in piracy cases, convictions

Report says cases brought and defendants sentenced for intellectual-property violations have increased in number over past two years, with more action coming.

Editor's note: This blog was updated at 6:58 a.m. PST Tuesday to add a link to the report.

WASHINGTON--The Bush administration witnessed a "record" uptick in intellectual property-related investigations and prosecutions last year, according to a new government report released Monday.

U.S. government

During the 2007 fiscal year, the U.S. Department of Justice filed 217 of those cases--up 7 percent from the 204 cases lodged in 2006 and 33 percent from the 169 such cases in 2005--according to the report (PDF) produced by the National Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordination Council. The NIPLECC, as it's known in Washington, consists of the Justice, State, Commerce, and Homeland Security departments and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Of course, merely filing a case doesn't necessarily mean that the alleged culprit was ultimately found guilty. But the report also found that the number of defendants sentenced for intellectual property-related crimes grew to 287, up from 213 in 2006 and 149 in 2005.

To be sure, intellectual property-related enforcement actions represent just a tiny sliver of the Justice Department's overall work. To put those numbers into perspective, the Justice Department filed 719 drug-related cases and 572 "re-entry of deported aliens" cases in federal district courts during August 2007 alone, according to the latest government data compiled by the Syracuse University Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

There's still much more work to be done on the antipiracy front, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sigal Mandelker said during a Monday afternoon briefing on Capitol Hill.

She said the Bush administration is still hoping that Congress will enact a set of sweeping intellectual-property law changes recommended last year. It would like politicians to criminalize "attempting" to infringe copyrights, permit wiretaps for piracy investigations, and increase penalties for intellectual-property violations, among other things.

A controversial copyright bill pending in the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee would do some, but not all, of those things.

"We're always evaluating our cases and what additional tools we need to enhance our ability to bring more cases, bigger cases, and to send the message to these criminals that if they perpetrate these crimes, they're going to face particularly stiff penalties," Mandelker said.

The annual report also lists the following among the accomplishments of the Bush administration's antipiracy apparatus:

• Posting seven new "IP attaches" around the world--in Bangkok; Sao Paolo, Brazil; Cairo, Egypt; Moscow; New Delhi; and China. Stationed in areas known for having intellectual-property enforcement "issues," they're designed to be ambassadors of sorts, helping work out agreements with foreign governments to beef up crackdowns on counterfeit and pirated goods.
• Launching educational campaigns to promote the importance of intellectual-property protection for small- and midsize businesses and at international trade fairs.
• Using international trade agreements to pressure other countries, most notably China and Russia, not to look the other way when piracy occurs.