It hasn’t gotten much attention, but this week the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property—a clumsy name for a valuable undertaking—issued its findings on the threat posed by espionage against American industry, mostly in the cyber domain, and suggested steps to mitigate them. The entire report of the commission, chaired by retired Admiral Dennis Blair and former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, is worth reading.
It certainly underlines the size of the problem, estimating that annual losses from intellectual property theft top $300 billion and result in the loss (or more properly the failure to add) millions of jobs to the U.S. economy. It also squarely blames China as the main source of all this theft, accounting for 50-80 percent of the whole. “National industrial policy goals in China encourage IP theft,” the commission found, “and an extraordinary number of Chinese in business and government entities are engaged in this practice.”
The Republican Study Committee, a conservative policy-focused organization in Congress, recently released a smart paper on copyright law that’s drawn some controversy. It was written by RSC staffer Derek Khanna (full disclosure: he is a college friend), and it makes the case that current copyright law does the opposite of what it was originally intended to do — instead of fostering innovation and intellectual growth, it’s hindering it.
The paper echoes reasonable arguments for copyright law reform that libertarians have been making for years. But shortly after it was published, it was mysteriously yanked from the RSC website, supposedly because it wasn’t properly reviewed.
Twenty years ago, when still a young college student reconsidering early plans to become a research biologist (a C- in organic chemistry helped that decision along considerably), I interned at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. In an age before Google and when Internet resources were few and far between, one of my jobs was to go to the University of Pennsylvania’s library and read through the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) and the Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS).
For five decades beginning in 1946, FBIS would translate important newspaper articles and television and radio broadcasts from around the globe. Its corollary, JPRS, would translate journal and magazine articles. The U.S. government would recoup some of the cost of the operation by selling subscriptions to think tanks and universities. On an almost daily basis, FBIS and JPRS would mail out booklets sorted by region. The subscriptions were priceless for anyone who for research purposes wanted to read what the Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, Pakistani, or Cuban media was saying.