The U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Customs Service said their Intellectual Property Rights Initiative will be a combined domestic and international effort to crack down on intellectual property crimes.
"At the same time that our information economy is soaring, so is intellectual property theft," Deputy U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder said in a statement on the initiative.
"We are here to send the message that those who steal our intellectual property will be prosecuted. This is theft, pure and simple."
The agencies said they plan to work together on certain types of software piracy cases, rather than pursuing individual efforts, and said they will push for stricter penalties for offenders. The initiative will start out in areas with port cities, including New York, New Jersey, south Florida, the San Francisco area and Boston, officials of the agencies said.
BSA: Companies frustrated
Many high-tech companies, stung by financial losses from piracy, have been "frustrated by the lack of resources" devoted to fighting intellectual property crimes, said Anne Gavin, a spokeswoman for the Business Software Alliance, in an interview.
"We're really pleased with the new focus on this issue," Gavin said. The BSA estimates that 40 percent of all software in use worldwide is pirated. The trade group also estimates that in 1997, piracy cost the software industry $11.4 billion in lost revenues worldwide.
The FBI said it has elevated intellectual property crime to one of its white-collar crime priorities.
"Intellectual property criminals are organized, well-funded, and use the tools of the Internet and modern communications to steal the product of (the high-tech industry's) labors," FBI Assistant Director Thomas J. Pickard said in a statement.
The customs service, meanwhile, said it has asked Congress to fund a new effort to collect, analyze and disseminate information on new patterns in intellectual property crime.
"Organized criminal gangs" are playing an increasing role in counterfeiting of a variety of consumer products including software, music, videotapes and clothing, Deputy Customs Commissioner Sam Banks said in a statement.
"A more focused, coordinated approach is necessary to enhance our ability to identify and apprehend those engaging in criminal activity which cuts to the core of American business," Banks said.
$76M in counterfeit goods
The Customs Service said it seized nearly $76 million in counterfeit U.S. consumer goods in fiscal 1998 alone.
Officials of the agencies could not immediately be reached for further comment Friday.