Last week I reached beyond my regular sphere of e-mail buddies, to chat with the President. Generally speaking, I would not describe myself as a member of the Bill Clinton Fan Club, but I was impressed with muscle he finally flexed standing up to the Peoples Republic of China and its flagrant disregard for the intellectual property rights of U.S. software developers.
The last showdown we had with Beijing concerned China's poor record on human rights. After all the threats and posturing, the U.S. backed down and China succeeded in keeping its Most Favored Nation trade status, making no concessions on human rights.
In this latest round of wrangling, China let a February 4th deadline pass without making any efforts toward "substantial improvements in its commitment to protect intellectual property, including software". As a result, U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor imposed trade sanctions against China. Bravo! Special 301 provision of the 1988 U.S. Trade Act authorizes the U.S. government to impose trade sanctions against countries "which conduct unfair trade practices, including the inadequate protection in intellectual property."
Though there are laws against copyright infringement in China, there is virtually no enforcement effort. To the contrary, there are actually 29 factories in China - many of them government owned - that are mass producing pirated copies of US movies, records, CD's and personal computer software. This is much bigger than just copying your favorite program to share with a friend.
China has slipped from a 94 percent piracy rate to 98 percent. Only 2 percent of all the software in the entire country is legally acquired. The monetary losses to one of our premier industries are staggering. It is estimated that U.S. software publishers lost $351 million in 1994 due to piracy in China alone. Losses globally for 1994 are estimated at $12.8 billion dollars.
Following the imposition of trade sanctions, China of course responded in kind with a 100 percent increase on tariffs for imported U.S. goods. At the same time, however, Madam Wu Yi, China's trade minister, sent a letter to the Clinton administration indicating a willingness to resume talks. The trade sanctions announced on February 4th do not become effective until February 26th.
The President didn't personally answer my e-mail, but I received a prompt response the very next day from White House staff. I was assured that my "concerns, ideas and suggestions are carefully recorded and communicated to the President weekly with a representative sampling of the mail."
If you have issues or concerns that you'd like to share with the President or Vice-President, you can e-mail them via the Internet or through one of the commercial online services that have an Internet gateway. President Clinton's address is President@whitehouse.gov and the Vice-President's address is Vice.President@whitehouse.gov. You can reach Newt Gingrich at email@example.com. (Note: No periods after gov)
White House documents and publications are also available via e- mail. Send a message to publications
whitehouse.gov and type Send Info. No other text is needed. Instructions will be sent to you via e-mail on how to obtain various documents.
If you have an Internet avenue, you can access a government service called, "Welcome to the White House: An Interactive Citizens' Handbook". This is a World Wide Web service that provides a "single point access to all electronic government information on the Internet". The address for this service is http://www.whitehouse.gov. The House of Representatives can be accessed on the Web at http://www.house.gov.
Overall, the present administration is not only taking a stand to protect our software industry,
but is also making great strides in making government more accessible to the general public and
especially to the electronic community.
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