DOJ launches intellectual-property-enforcement task force

It's unclear what IP crimes the task force will focus on

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a new task force on intellectual property in an effort to crack down on a "growing number" of IP crimes in the U.S. and elsewhere, the agency announced.

The task force, announced Friday by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, will focus on working with state, local and international law enforcement agencies to "combat intellectual property crimes," the DOJ said in a press release.

The task force will work closely with the recently established White House Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC), which has the responsibility of drafting a strategic plan on IP for President Barack Obama's administration. The task force will recommend ways to improve IP enforcement, the DOJ said.

"The rise in intellectual property crime in the United States and abroad threatens not only our public safety but also our economic well-being," Holder said in a statement. "The Department of Justice must confront this threat with a strong and coordinated response."

U.S. officials have suggested that the counterfeiting of pharmaceuticals, vehicle parts and electronics can endanger the public. In some cases, pirated products also finance large criminal operations, officials have said.

It's unclear what IP crimes the task force will focus on. A DOJ spokeswoman didn't respond to e-mailed questions about whether the task force would focus on software, music or other IP, or whether it would focus on digital trading of music and other copyright items or on physical copies of materials protected by IP law.

Public Knowledge, a digital rights group, called on the DOJ to focus on the mass illegal reproduction of CDs, DVDs and other physical materials.

"We believe it would be a mistake, and a misuse of government resources, for the department to pursue cases against noncommercial consumer activity," said Gigi Sohn, Public Knowledge's president.

The task force has been formed after a meeting between Vice President Joe Biden and IP industries.

"Most of the discussion was held behind closed doors with industry representatives," Sohn said in an e-mail. "We noted at the time that no consumer representatives were allowed to participate in that meeting, nor was anyone present who would speak for a balanced copyright policy. We look forward to the administration taking the time to examine both sides of these very contentious issues."

There are some indications that the DOJ may target peer-to-peer file sharers, however. The DOJ, under Obama, has hired five former lawyers for the Recording Industry Association of America, and the DOJ this year supported a US$675,000 file-sharing verdict in Massachusetts.

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