Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wants to knock out the illegal "knock-off" industry that produces counterfeits of everything from computer programs to videos, drugs and watches.
As companies that lose billions each year to such piracy applauded him, Hatch introduced a bill Wednesday to punish counterfeiters more severely - and make it easier for law enforcement officials to catch and prosecute them.Hatch had a table full of counterfeit goods at a press conference announcing his bill - and used them to show how they may help fund organized crime, and present health and other risks.
"Just yesterday, Judiciary Committee investigators bought this fake Cartier watch. You can't tell the difference easily - until you wear it," Hatch said.
"The leader of the `Born to Kill' crime gang in New York City made an estimated $13 million a year selling fake Cartier and Rolex watches," he added.
He held up a can of fake Similac baby formula powder, noting that it looks real - but the counterfeit actually contained ingredients that could cause deadly allergic reactions in many infants.
"This video tape of `Apollo 13' appeared just one day after the movie was released in theaters, and was available for sale on the streets of many cities," he said. "This tape of `Waterworld' - made mostly from outtakes - actually appeared before the movie was released."
He noted the movie industry loses $2 billion a year to counterfeits. But he said that's peanuts compared with the $6.5 billion that computer software companies lose each year.
Hatch showed a Microsoft Windows program in a box that looked identical to the real thing, including shrink-wrap. "But it is an inferior product," he said.
He held up a counterfeit auto brake lining, and noted some such counterfeits that used wood chips resulted in accidents and death.
Hatch's bill would make all such counterfeiting of trademarked goods subject to racketeering laws - meaning the government could seize all assets, including homes and cars, of those convicted.
It would also increase jail time and criminal fines.
It would also give law agencies enhanced authority to seize and hold counterfeit goods and the tools needed to produce them. It also allows increased civil penalties and statutory damage awards of up to $1 million per offense.
Hatch says his bill sends the message that counterfeiting "is a serious crime that involves domestic and international organized crime rings. It is a crime that robs all Americans."
Among those praising the bill was Walt Disney Co. Vice President Robert S. Ogden Jr., who said counterfeiting is an evil "which deprives the government of hundreds of millions of tax dollars, which victimizes consumers and which costs the jobs of American workers."
John Bliss, president of the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition of concerned companies, said, "Because of weak laws that offer little, if any, deterrence, organized crime has turned to product counterfeiting.
"They'll sell anything from counterfeit medication, food and airplane parts to software, handbags and watches. If your company has brand-name recognition, you most likely will have a problem."