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A group of US lawmakers plan to "closely monitor" five countries where they claim copyright piracy has reached "alarming levels."

The Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus, made up of over 70 members of US Congress, singled out China, Russia, Canada, Spain, and Mexico on Wednesday for its "2009 International Piracy Watch List."

"These countries stand out because of the scope and depth of their piracy problems, which cost the US copyright industries and the millions of Americans who work in these companies billions of dollars and because piracy in these countries is largely the result of a lack of political will to confront the problem," the group stated in a press release.

The caucus claims digital technology "holds the promise of a golden age for movies, music, video games and other forms of entertainment" and are key to American economic growth.

"Conversely," stated Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, "counterfeiting and piracy cripple growth and stifle innovation. Many do not understand that ideas, inventions, artistic works, and other commercially viable products created out of one's own mental processes deserve the same protection under the law as any tangible product or piece of real estate. Unfortunately, some believe that if they find it on the Internet then it must be free. We must stop this destructive mindset."

The group also claims organized crime has become "heavily involved" in foreign DVD and CD piracy and are utilizing the same distribution networks and resources originally developed for drug trafficking and arms smuggling.

Countries fingered in the report don't appear to be based purely on the quantity of copyright piracy or whether their copyright laws fall in line with US legislation.

"While the US is the world's leader in intellectual property protections, the problem does not stop at our borders," said Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte in a statement. "Piracy in today's economy is a global problem. We must encourage other countries to enact and enforce strong intellectual property laws in order to fully protect America's inventors and authors, as well as their own."

"Just as we don't allow cars to be stolen off the lots of Ford or GM dealerships, we cannot allow movies, music and computer programs to be stolen from motion picture studios, recording studios and software manufacturers," said California congressman Adam Schiff.

Here's what the report had to say about the claimed cut-rate copyright quintet:

China: shame on you, Baidu

The Chinese government "has permitted piracy to fully contaminate the online marketplace via an array of nefarious illegal websites, file storage sites, user generated content sites, and so-called "deep-linking" sites that knowingly connect users to infringing content."

Baidu, China's largest search engine, was blamed for the vast majority of illegal downloading of music in China. But the report said Baidu is "just one of many examples of Chinese sites whose entire business model relies on providing access to infringing materials."

The report also blames China's "crippling market access restrictions against some American content providers" for further exacerbating its copyright protection problems, thus "allowing pirates largely free reign in China's market by significantly reducing the ability of U.S. copyright owners to provide legitimate content to Chinese consumers."

Russia: it's the discs, man

The country has seen "modest declines" in computer software piracy, the report states, but much remains to be done.

"In particular, we are disappointed that there has been inadequate progress in addressing Internet and optical disc piracy through the effective enforcement of criminal laws with deterrent penalties."

Canada: You stand on guard for ISPs

The country has become known as a "safe haven" for internet pirates and "an attractive location for illicit websites," according to the report. This is blamed on Canada lacking legislation or legal rulings that "clearly provides an effective means for copyright holders to protect their works from online piracy."

"We call upon the Canadian Government to swiftly adopt measures that would do the following: clarify that parties who facilitate, encourage, and profit from widespread infringement are liable under Canadian law; meaningfully engage ISPs to fight against online piracy; reaffirm that unauthorized downloading is not protected by the personal use exception/levy; and effectively prevent the circumvention of technological protection measures, including banning trafficking in [copy protection] circumvention devices."

Spain: taking a P2P siesta

The report claims P2P piracy in Spain is "widely perceived as an acceptable cultural phenomenon" and that government policy has essentially decriminalized illicit P2P file sharing.

It goes on to complain that Spanish ISPs are unwilling to collaborate in "the fight against Internet piracy," and are promoting their file sharing and downloading service capabilities to win customers.

Mexico: south of disorder

"While Mexican Government officials tasked with copyright issues have reportedly shown a perceived willingness to address these issues, the sheer dimension of the piracy problems in Mexican markets remain severe with little or no improvement in 2008" the report states.

It complains that there's been "unsatisfactory" funding and government efforts to combat copyright piracy in Mexico. Furthermore, law enforcement officials need to be given authority to bust well-known pirate marketplaces without the need for rights holders to file complaints, it argues.

Grab your very own copy of the "2009 International Piracy Watch List" here (PDF). ®

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