NEW YORK, Aug. 12 (JTA) — Israel is getting into hot water with the United States over the piracy of compact discs and computer software. “Israel is allegedly a hub of piracy in our part of the world” and a “candidate to be the only country in the highest level” of a U.S. list of countries that are most active in copyright infringement, said Yossi Beilin, Israel’s justice minister Beilin met in Washington on Thursday with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to discuss possible U.S. sanctions for the rampant high-tech forgery. Penalties could run to more than $100 million if Israel does not pass new laws protecting copyrighted computer software and music from piracy, Beilin told reporters before his meetings in Washington. “The dimensions are really frightening,” Beilin said at a news conference in New York the day before his trip to Washington. “It’s a killer for the Israeli music industry and in relations between Israel and the United States,” said Beilin, who was appointed to head Israel’s Justice Ministry when Prime Minister Ehud Barak formed his Cabinet in July. One high-tech insider told Israel Radio earlier this year that Israel’s software industry generates an estimated $2 billion a year, a large portion of which is exported to the United States. U.S. sanctions, the industry executive said, could spur the pullout of venture-capital investments in the industry in Israel. In 1998, American companies sustained estimated losses of some $170 million in pirated music alone, Israel Radio reported in February. The illegal distribution of such forged materials in Israel parallels similar problems in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Israel has been creeping up America’s list of countries that are most active in music and software piracy, Beilin told reporters. In 1994, Israel was ranked in the lowest level; it moved up one level in 1997 and another level in 1998. If Israel reaches the highest level, Beilin said, sanctions in the form of higher tariffs will ensue. After nearly a year on the U.S. “priority watch list,” Israel received a warning in February that it must crack down on the illegal activity.. American officials demanded that Israel pursue the issue through legislation, enforcement and tough punitive measures. The deadline for Israeli action is December. Beilin said Wednesday that in the last few weeks, he was successful in passing a first reading of a bill that would bring heavy punishment against people convicted of forging material. A special police unit will be created to enforce the law, he said. Israel’s Justice Ministry is coordinating its efforts with the country’s Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Public Security Ministry “to fight very hard” against piracy. “It’s one of the issues that is high on my agenda.”
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