October 8, 2008 | By Richard Esguerra

Government Painfully Fuzzy on the Effects of Infringement

Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged President Bush to sign the PRO-IP Act, claiming that "counterfeiting and piracy of [intellectual property] is a growing problem that costs U.S. businesses nearly $250 billion in revenue each year [and] has already caused the loss of an estimated 750,000 American jobs..." Both figures, $250 billion and 750,000 jobs, are cartoonishly large and have activated the investigatory instincts of some smart reporters. What have they found?

Wired blogger David Kravets' investigation led to nowhere -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claimed that the jobs figure comes from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Commerce claimed that the measurement was provided by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (Thanks to the government's ignorance, Kravets became stuck in an infinite loop and needed to be rebooted.)

Julian Sanchez at Ars Technica had a bit more luck in his dogged pursuit for answers, going so far as to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Commerce! But after reaching a few dead ends and ending up with a flawed International Trade Commission survey from 1988, he concludes that "...both numbers are seemingly decades old, gaining a patina of currency and credibility by virtue of having been laundered through a relay race of respectable sources, even as their origin recedes into the mists."

It's clear that the government has been thoroughly hoodwinked -- the big players in the copyright industry pretend that the effects of infringement are absolute and harmful, despite many ambiguities and a lack of hard facts. One thing is for sure -- it is harmful for the government to ratchet up IP enforcement based on this flawed, empty data.

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