I had the honor this week of participating in a panel on Capitol Hill hosted by The American Consumer Institute (ACI), whose speakers also included Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennessee), ACI’s Steve Pociask,Todd McCracken of the National Small Business Association, Sandra Aistars of the Copyright Alliance and Dr. Joseph Fuhr, Jr., Professor at Widener University and ACI Senior Fellow. At that time, ACI unveiled its new public opinion survey showing overwhelming support for intellectual property (IP) rights and legal efforts to combat IP piracy. Remarkably, in this era of political polarization, that support approaches 90%, so political leaders should pay attention.
Today, IP rights are under constant threat not only by way of theft and counterfeiting, but also by special interests here and abroad who seek to undermine IP protections. For example, some of the nations with whom the U.S. is negotiating free trade agreements believe that IP should receive little, if any, legal protection. Accordingly, for my part I emphasized that IP is precisely the basis on which the U.S. has evolved into the most prosperous, innovative nation in human history. After all, many alternative legal systems exist providing less protection for IP. Yet it is here in America, with its strong tradition of IP protection, where the overwhelming amount of innovation has occurred over the past two centuries. That is not by accident, and it’s not coincidence.
Our IP system has delivered a higher standard of living and record of creation than any other system that the world has ever known.
But I also emphasized that IP protections aren’t just utilitarian in nature, as some seem to claim. Rather, IP protections also reflect our view that the right to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor and efforts is a natural, unalienable one. As stated by John Locke, “Our handiwork becomes our property because our hands – and the energy, consciousness, and control that fuel their labor – are our property.” That right is at the core of American society itself. The Constitution reads, “The Congress shall have the Power … [t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” That reflects not only British common law, which is the basis for our own legal system, but also the Founding Fathers’ views. In The Federalist No. 43, James Madison noted, “The copyright of authors has been solemnly adjudged, in Great Britain, to be a right of common law.”
Today, American IP is valued at approximately $5 trillion, which is greater than the gross domestic product (GDP) of any other nation in the world. It also accounts for over half of American exports, which is critical at a time of increasing international competition. Unfortunately, piracy of U.S. IP constitutes a multi-billion dollar threat, which steals our wealth and deprives our innovators the fruits of their labor.
With ACI’s new study, lawmakers can recognize where the American public overwhelmingly stands. That data can prove critical in the ongoing battle to protect IP rights and increase legal protections to fight piracy both domestically and abroad.