Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who chairs the Senate copyright subcommittee, made one of the most ominous statements to date about what might happen if unfettered piracy continues. "Before Russia enters the (World Trade Organization), many of us will have to be convinced that the Russian government is serious about cracking down on the theft of intellectual property," Hatch said during a hearing.
James Mendenhall, the acting general counsel for the U.S. Trade Representative, said his colleagues are hosting a delegation from China this week to talk in part about copyright law. "We're going to be issuing a request through WTO rules seeking additional information from China on the status of enforcement in China," Mendenhall said. (A WTO spokesman later said the talks were still ongoing.)
The USTR recently highlighted the governments of both Russia and China as top copyright offenders. A report in April placed both on a "priority watch list"--along with Brazil, Israel and Indonesia--and plans to wield the WTO apparatus as a lever to force greater compliance with international norms. Another U.S. tactic is to ink free-trade deals including strict copyright regulations with individual nations.
Piracy in China alone costs U.S. companies between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion a year, the USTR says. Industry estimates place Russia's infringement rates last year at 80 percent for motion pictures, 66 percent for records and music, 87 percent for business software, and 73 percent for entertainment software.
Hatch and Vermont's Patrick Leahy, the panel's top Democrat, said that pirated copies of "Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith" already were available on the streets of Beijing and Moscow and expressed frustration about the situation. "What is enough of either a carrot or a stick to make them change, especially when it seems to be governmental policy to allow this?" Leahy asked.
"We've raised the issue at the presidential level, we've put them on the priority watch list," replied Mendenhall. Further progress will take negotiations, WTO pressure and patience, he said.