BY: ANTHONY DEFRANCESCO
While the in-house legal department plays a vital role in intellectual property protection, multi-national enterprises will often form a corporate team to strengthen protection measures across all fields. This corporate team, or brand protection group, may consist of members from the government affairs, marketing and advertising, sales, research and development, and corporate security departments among others. Each department may then delegate a member to serve on the group and provide expertise in each area. For example, the government affairs department may aid in establishing relationships with government officials and intellectual property agencies at home and abroad, while research and development teams may work to study counterfeit goods and develop technological defenses to piracy, such as encryption or other security measures for online streaming. Protection of such digital content remains an issue particularly important to Zuffa LLC (the parent company of the UFC), as evidenced by its propensity to litigate in order to protect its intellectual properties. The sales department will generally work in the field in a new region of expansion and assess the amount and nature of any counterfeit goods being sold. Next, the marketing and advertising department can attempt to educate local governments and consumers of the harms and risks of commercial piracy. A prime example of a consumer-education measure in the case of a company like Zuffa LLC is evident at the onset of their pay-per-view broadcasts. Prior to any trademark display or programming content, a black and white message appears on the screen, accompanied by a strong voice-over, stating:
Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and HSI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
This language is intended to educate consumers of the risks of infringing upon a copyrighted work and to deter individuals from engaging in such activities. Marketing and advertising departments may also use other media outlets such as television and the internet to further strengthen their brand in a foreign country and warn potential infringers. Lastly, the corporate security department can work to preserve “internal corporate security, [oversee] independent contractors, and implement new security measures throughout all of a company’s foreign subsidiaries.” This corporate team, consisting of these various departments within the organization, may then meet on a regular basis in order to review strategy and assess options to continually combat piracy. Unfortunately, combatting piracy on this scale can sometimes feel like a losing battle. It seems that just when an internet site that is illegally streaming copyrighted content shuts down, another one pops up. Regardless, often companies like Zuffa LLC will pursue aggressive legal action against pirates almost as a method of general deterrence. While some companies may seek the assistance of the national government and the WTO in effectuating such enforcement, companies like Zuffa LLC will often choose to enforce rights via private means in the form of litigation and administrative enforcement.
While private enforcement of intellectual property rights can be somewhat successful, an organization must understand that enforcement may be no easy task. Pirates and counterfeiters in the international market can be very difficult to trace and prosecute in many instances. This is partially due to the fact that we are experiencing rapid technological enhancements globally, but can also be attributed to the well-organized criminal organizations in Asia and around the world that engage in commercial piracy. For these organizations, which can be large and well-financed, the relatively low-risk/high reward nature of commercial piracy in some countries provides significant incentive to participate in such criminal activity. Granted, it would be irresponsible to ignore the fact that individual hackers and internet criminals likely have the tools at their disposal to illegally stream copyrighted content and commit other intellectual property violations. A multi-national corporation may have to work with private investigation agencies and hire outside counsel in enforcing these rights in foreign countries like China, where intellectual property protection measures may be improving, but enforcement of rights continues to be a significant problem. In the end, regardless of the enforcement methods chosen, an organization may greatly benefit from utilizing a corporate team consisting of individuals from various departments whose primary goal is brand protection.