A few days ago the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property (IP Commission) released their anti-piracy recommendations to the U.S. Government.
In a 89-page report, with a strong focus on China, the commission describes how this “theft” impacts the U.S. economy, and suggests what can be done to fight it.
The IP Commission starts with describing the scope of the problem, which they believe amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars.
“The annual losses are likely to be comparable to the current annual level of U.S. exports to Asia—over $300 billion. The exact figure is unknowable, but private and governmental studies tend to understate the impacts due to inadequacies in data or scope,” the report reads.
Because of online piracy and other forms of IP-theft, the commission believes that the U.S. economy is currently missing out on million of jobs. In addition, they note that the threat to innovation significantly degrades quality of life for Americans.
The report distinguishes many different forms of IP-theft. However, throughout the report casual online piracy, counterfeiting, hacking and economic espionage are often lumped together when it comes to the recommendations.
For example, one of the suggestion to combat piracy in the “cyber” arena is to allow for elaborate forms of ransomware, targeting people who open files without permission.
“Software can be written that will allow only authorized users to open files containing valuable information. If an unauthorized person accesses the information, a range of actions might then occur.”
“For example, the file could be rendered inaccessible and the unauthorized user’s computer could be locked down, with instructions on how to contact law enforcement to get the password needed to unlock the account,” the commission writes.
The description above is reminiscent of the more draconian DRM solutions we’ve seen in the past, but the report goes further. The commission also recommends the Government to authorize aggressive cyber actions against “cyber IP thieves.”
This includes the peculiar suggestion to make it possible for copyright holders to access computers of alleged offenders to “retrieve” the stolen files.
“Without damaging the intruder’s own network, companies that experience cyber theft ought to be able to retrieve their electronic files or prevent the exploitation of their stolen information.”
The commission notes that it’s currently not permitted under U.S. law to break into computers of suspected IP-thieves. However, if the law was amended to make such defensive actions legal, the damage being done now could be greatly reduced.
“As discussed in the cyber recommendations above, if counterattacks against hackers were legal, there are many techniques that companies could employ that would cause severe damage to the capability of those conducting IP theft.”
“These attacks would raise the cost to IP thieves of their actions, potentially deterring them from undertaking theses activities in the first place,” the report reads.
The above are just a few highlights of the complete set of recommendations. In summary, it is safe to say that the IP Commission calls for unprecedented powers to stop all sorts of IP-crimes.
Without playing down the seriousness of criminal hacks and economic espionage, the current recommendations are very worrisome to say the least. In many instances the report fails to distinguish theft of corporate trade secrets from more casual piracy such as downloading a TV-show from The Pirate Bay, with all its unintended consequences.