- Posted December 22, 2013 by
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Congressman Tim Griffin - "There are governments that are working hand in hand with the black market and with organized crime."
Congressman Tim Griffin (R-AR) sat down with Independent Filmmaker Keith Hudson at the RB McGrath Atelier et Galarie in Jacksonville in an interview for Hudson's upcoming documentary film "Digital Peruggias", a story surrounding the image piracy of the artist's work, intellectual property rights and the massive counterfeiting enterprises run by manufacturers in mainland China. Representative Griffin pulls no punches in this exclusive interview describing an issue that is costing U.S. commerce and independent businesses literally billions of dollars in losses each year.
Hudson: RB McGrath tells us that out of the five elected officials initially contacted in relation to piracy and counterfeiting of this work by a Chinese manufacturer, your office was the only one that came forward and offered assistance. What interested you about this particular case?
Congressman Griffin: "This particular case was one that I think my staff would have tried to help with no matter what. They brought it to my attention because they knew at the time I was on the House Judiciary Committee with the Intellectual Property Sub Committee, so piracy is something that I have been very interested in and have been very active in trying to address. My staff knew that this was one that I would be personally interested in because of my past work and current work."
"Piracy is something that the Judiciary Committee was and still is grappling with. I spent time overseas in the past and when I got to Congress I reflected on the time I spent in Iraq with the Army and I recalled how accessible it was to get pirated DVDs, CDs and other materials and that it was a problem. I've met in the past, and at the time that I found out about McGrath's case, with a lot of folks in the entertainment industry who have been victims of piracy because their intellectual property is often stolen and it results in billions of dollars of lost sales. At it's core, it's theft."
"As a former army prosecutor and civilian prosecutor, and again, judiciary deals with criminal law, I was interested in it from that perspective as well. You can look at it from a jobs perspective, you can look at it from a property rights theft perspective, no matter how many ways you view this it is a problem, so I am engaged on the issue of piracy."
Hudson: What measures, if any, can the government take in response to Internet piracy and the production of counterfeit materials?
Congressman Griffin: " We have some trusted partners. Some of our long term friends are countries that enforce the rule of law, who do a pretty good job and who work with us cooperatively. Countries like Britain for example. But, there are a lot of countries, particularly the former Soviet Republics, Russia and China where intellectual property is not given the respect that it is due. In those countries where law enforcement may say one thing but do another, it's a challenge. We cannot physically go into these countries, they are sovereign nations, so we have to rely in large part on cooperation and there's a certain amount of trust that is required. So - what we have to do is utilize whatever diplomatic and economic tools that are available to us to make sure that these countries, China for example, respect our laws."
"A lot of times there are governments that are working hand in hand with the black market and with organized crime and you may not know it. You may suspect it but you may not have proof of it. So the government may tell you that they agree with you, they may tell you that they are trying to do something about the piracy problem, but secretly, they may be fostering it, facilitating it. That's a difficult issue. There is a bill introduced, SOPA, that basically would shut down some of the international web sites involved in this sort of trafficking. That bill became a very controversial piece of legislation. I think there was a lot of misinformation on it, but it became controversial because a lot of folks basically argued that it was going to stifle first amendment rights and that it was going to shut down U.S. web sites, which is not true. It was targeted at foreign web sites. The bill was amended but in the end, to be honest, the proponents did not do a good job of communicating what they were seeking to do. I think there's still room to do some things in this area, but it's a tricky area because ultimately, beyond our borders we have limited tools and there is a certain degree of trust, but sometimes the people we are trusting are not trustworthy."
Hudson - Has the McGrath case enlightened you to how wide spread piracy and counterfeiting by foreign manufacturers is?
Congressman Griffin - "I think it has confirmed what I believed already. I know that counterfeit products are wide spread. I know that piracy is theft and it is an ongoing problem. It's not all via the web. There are knock off bags and watches and things like that that you can get right here in Central Arkansas. That is theft. People think of it as relatively harmless, but it is theft. We know that videos, music and other things are downloaded illegally all the time. People tend to think that if they're not breaking into someone's house and stealing something, or stealing something in a store, that it's somehow not stealing. That is false. It Is stealing. It drives home the degree of the problem when you have a real person in your district, who has a creation by their own hand and mind, and it ends up on a web site out of china. That really drives home how real this problem is.
In this case we're talking about sophisticated, highly valued art. We're talking about very valuable works of art. In this particular case it is someone who is self employed, in Arkansas, and is the ultimate in small business but also the ultimate in quality. You can look around you and compare these works of art to any thing you would find in a gallery in New York or Paris, or anywhere else. It doesn't get any better than this. This is incredible stuff. All of that comes together in this case. What you have is mass marketing out of China. This is a big deal and I think that this case is a perfect case study for a national conversation."
Photo credit: Pham Minh, Photographer/Cinematographer: Congressman Tim Griffin seated in front of "Still Life of Violin" by RB McGrath. From Keith Hudson's "Digital Peruggias". By permission. Quotes provided by Keith Hudson. Story: RB McGrath