Mark Shurtleff: Online lawbreakers
In one year, the Utah attorney general's SECURE Strike Force arrested 144 suspects, dismantled two immigrant gun-trafficking operations and 23 document mills and seized 30,000 pirated DVDs and CDs.
The SECURE Strike Force targets major crimes committed by illegal aliens. But Utahns are still being placed in peril every day by criminals who never cross our borders but still break into our homes through our computers. These criminals unload unsafe products and malicious computer viruses, perpetrate identity theft and engage in wholesale theft of America's most innovative and popular products.
These rogue sites are often based in foreign countries and are operated by criminals who seek to market and distribute counterfeit versions of products made by hard-working Americans. The kinds of products found on these websites include handbags, movies and television shows, music and prescription drugs, which can pose a serious threat to health and safety.
The sites prey on unsuspecting consumers by cloaking themselves with an air of legitimacy. They mimic legal retail sites in an effort to fool unwary customers who are taken in by the appearance of the websites themselves. The sites look legitimate, often have sophisticated graphics, carry advertising from legitimate companies that have no idea their ads have been placed there and accept credit cards and other major forms of payment in exchange for their illegal products.
In addition to the problems caused by counterfeit and dangerous merchandise, these sites represent a substantial threat to some of the most important business sectors in Utah the intellectual property industries that make Utah a leader in creativity and innovation.
These industries include everything from medical devices and pharmaceuticals to digital media and entertainment, and contribute millions of dollars annually to Utah's economy and provide top-quality jobs for its residents. For instance, the film and television industry alone is responsible for providing nearly 8,000 jobs and $385 million in wages to Utahns.
However, these industries and jobs are undermined by online counterfeiting and piracy, which, according to the brand protection firm Mark Monitor, costs industry $135 billion in lost revenue annually. These websites represent the worst of the worst infringers on the Internet, are a threat to our economic security and they have no place in a legitimate online market.
Thankfully, Congress recognizes this growing threat and is coming to our aid. Rogue sites legislation introduced in the Senate as the PROTECT IP Act and in the House as Stop Online Piracy Act cuts off foreign pirates and counterfeiters from the U.S. market and deprives them of what they want most our money. By disrupting the business models of these online criminals, this legislation would make it less profitable and more difficult for those who wish to engage in blatant intellectual property theft.
In November the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on this important issue and members of the committee argued passionately for the need to cut these sites out of the U.S. marketplace. While the committee recognizes more work may be needed to clarify language and avoid any unintended consequences, the time for action against these sites is now. It will take a strong, sustained effort to stop Internet thieves and profiteers.
Congress can make a significant contribution to that effort with legislation to strengthen law enforcement tools. In the interests of American citizens and businesses, it is time for Congress to enact rogue sites legislation.
Mark L. Shurtleff is Utah's attorney general.