IP Industries and Online Intermediaries Meet at White House

Vice President Joe Biden and IP Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel today called a meeting of corporate and non-profit entities that are working to forge voluntary agreements to protect consumers from fraud, piracy and counterfeit goods online (VP, DOJ, Stakeholders Huddle on IP). Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, were among the Administration officials at the meeting, which included payment processors, content companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and internet service providers, among others.

At first blush, this might seem an interesting mix of companies, but many so-called “rogue” web sites use legitimate third party intermediaries to facilitate and monetize transactions on their sites. The web site operators taking advantage of these intermediary services are fueling consumer confusion by dressing up their storefronts with the trappings of legitimate business. This has negative consequences for browsers and buyers, who at minimum are misled and often are harmed by dangerous products, or become the unwitting victims of malware, viruses, and identity theft perpetuated by the websites.

Today’s gathering is a welcome development. It is important that the Vice President and the Administration are taking a leadership role on this issue and helping to facilitate the ongoing dialog between the interested participants. And it is refreshing that the companies involved in the discussions today are voluntarily stepping up to share their research with each other and with the Administration, and to take action in this area.  Such collaborative efforts are important building blocks toward finding a solution to these challenging problems.

Ultimately, curbing the spread of rogue websites, and limiting the ability of such sites to use legitimate third party services is in everyone’s interest. Not only is it in the collective interest of the stakeholders involved – including consumers - to find adequate solutions which enable safe, quality online experiences, but all of the corporate entities involved also have an interest in protecting their brands from association with fraud and other illegitimate practices.

It is a positive first step to have all these players at the table working toward common purpose.