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Respect for patents, copyrights, trademarks, and other forms of intellectual property is important to the world’s economy. The World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report says that “enforcement of intellectual property rights has a positive net impact on growth prospects.” Across the range of income levels, says the report, “intellectual property rights are associated with greater trade...which in turn translate[s] into faster rates of economic growth.”

Unfortunately, counterfeiting and piracy in most countries are high profit, low risk activities. New technology makes it possible to make pirated copies of music and movies on a commercial scale in single rooms rather than in large factories.

Brad Buckles of the Recording Industry Association of America says his industry lost more than six-billion dollars to pirates in 2003:

“Our numbers have shown we’ve had a thirty-one percent drop in units being shipped by record companies over the last three years. It’s had a dramatic impact, even though everybody thinks that one individual download of sharing that they do doesn’t have much consequence. But the cumulative effect has a tremendous impact.”

The International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition reports that twenty-seven countries have serious problems. Counterfeited products range from air compressors and shampoo in China, to cell phones and printer cartridges in Canada.

Tony Wayne is U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs. “As this problem grows,” he says, “so too do related concerns about the health and safety of consumers who assume they are getting a genuine, not fake, product, and about the involvement of organized crime and other unsavory activities.”

Many countries are taking action, and the U.S. is committed to working with them to raise standards and enforcement practices. In October 2003, U.S. experts went to China to train Chinese officials in ways to detect evidence of intellectual property-related crimes. In December 2003, Brazil had its first-ever National Anti-Piracy Day, highlighted by the destruction of over a half million pirated compact discs. In January 2004, the Pakistani government approved legislation to create an intellectual property office.

As Assistant Secretary of State Wayne says, “This is a huge global problem, and it will take time to resolve.”