Business Leaders Seek Anti-Piracy Action

By JANE WARDELL, AP Business Writer

Business leaders representing industries ranging from pharmaceutical to software agreed at a meeting here Tuesday to form a coalition to lobby governments around the world to step up the fight against international piracy and counterfeiting.

Executives including Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steven Ballmer, EMI Group PLC Chairman Eric Nicoli and NBC Universal Chief Executive Officer Bob Wright said many governments had not done enough to legislate against -- or enforce existing legislation against -- the theft of intellectual property. NBC Universal is , a unit of General Electric Co.

"We need an adequate legal framework and enforcement capacity," said Vivendi Universal Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou after the meeting. "We are very far from that even in the U.S., and Europe is quite worse."

Nicoli warned governments that the companies forming the coalition under the banner "Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy" were worth around $1,000 billion, with a work force of 1 million and served more than a billion people.

"These aren't statistics, we respectfully suggest, that governments can afford to ignore," he said.

Nicoli declined to name countries that were dragging their heels on the fight against piracy, but said that the coalition would draw up a series of indices and publish them within the year.

He said the executives had decided to tackle the problem in the same way the pirates operate, by forming a coalition across industries and companies.

Nicoli on Tuesday dismissed suggestions by Apple Computer Inc. that a single price for songs sold over the Internet would help prevent piracy in the music industry.

"I'm not persuaded by the argument that a single price deters piracy," Nicoli said at a news conference in London to promote a new coalition of countries involved.

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs last month called music companies greedy for seeking higher prices for music downloaded from the Internet, saying such moves would increase piracy.

While the music industry has so far borne the brunt of copyright theft, with its easily reproducible and distributable products, the executives pointed out that almost every other industry is vulnerable.

Ballmer told the conference that the software industry is losing up to $32 billion annually to piracy. In the pharmaceuticals sector, up to

10 percent of products worldwide are counterfeit, rising to as much as 50 percent to 60 percent in the developing world.

"Nobody is immune," said Wright. "There are elements that are very bad and the reputations of countries and citizens are at stake."

Nicoli said there would be no "overnight success" in tackling piracy and counterfeiting but pointed to improvements in the music industry, which has waged a campaign against digital piracy over the past few years. The multi-pronged approach by the music industry has included a public education campaign and a series of lawsuits against individual file-sharers around the world.

"We are seeing progress and we are at least containing piracy," Nicoli said of the music industry.

The executives agreed to combine their current efforts to fight piracy and create the first global cross-sector stock-take of the size of the problem. They will also lobby other businesses to join the coalition.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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Jane Wardell
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