Steve Jobs once said that he’d rather be a “pirate” than join the navy. What he meant was you must think out of the box to innovate. But the world’s “innovative” drug industry is the “navy” as far as lobbying in support of the “Stop Online Piracy Act” goes.

The legislation’s short title is SOPA (H. R. 3261; find it here). There are several anti-SOPA Facebook pages and at least one called “Boycott SOPA (the companies lobbying for it).” You can get the official list of companies and organizations lobbying in favor of the bill here. Pfizer and PhRMA are on that list. Why? See below.

Many technology companies and web sites have organized a day of protest (today) against this bill and the companion “PIPA” bill (“Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011” or the “PROTECT IP Act of 2011”; find it here). Protesting companies include Google, which has put a censorship bar across its log, and Wikipedia, which has shut down totally today.

Here’s some background as published today in the New York Times (here):

The bills in Congress, pushed by Hollywood studios and other big media companies, target websites that let users download pirated movies, TV shows, music and other material in violation of U.S. copyright law. Most of these sites are outside of the United States, but the legislation would give the Justice Department and private companies tools to block them from American consumers. 

For example, Google could be forced to drop an offending site from its search engine results. Or the government could go to court to stop a U.S. company that facilitates online payments to a suspected infringing site. Internet companies say they have neither the time nor the resources to monitor every link on a website or post by a user.

Google, Facebook, eBay and other new media companies also object to rogue sites, but they have repeatedly said the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, in the House of Representatives goes too far, hurting investment, innovation and the open nature of the Internet. 

Why do Pfizer and PhRMA support these bills? Simple. They believe it is necessary to prevent “counterfeit” medicines from being sold to US consumers by companies outside the US. At least that’s why I think they are supporting these bills. I don’t find any press releases or blog posts about it on Pfizer’s or PhRMA’s site. Perhaps they will respond to this post and tell us in their own words why?

If the industry needs help from the government to prevent counterfeit medicines from reaching US consumers, why not support specific laws for that purpose instead of this legislation that potentially can be used to limit the rights without due process of many online publishers — who do not have anything to do with counterfeit medicines?

UPDATE (Jan 19, 2012): AstraZeneca Backs Counterfeit Drug Legislation

As if AZ heard what I said about pharma sponsoring more specific anti-drug counterfeiting laws, I just learned that’s exactly what AZ is doing. From the AZ Health Connections Blog:

AstraZeneca sent a letter to members of Congress today to express support for legislation that would increase penalties for those convicted of counterfeiting prescription medicines.

The letters sent to bill sponsors Rep. Patrick Meehan, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Linda Sanchez note that the issue of counterfeit medicines is particularly serious via “Internet pharmacies”:

While the total incidence of counterfeit medicines sold in “brick and mortar” pharmacies in the U.S. is estimated to be less than 1 percent of the total market value, the World Health Organization estimates that over 50 percent of medicines purchased from Internet sites without a physical address are counterfeit. 

You can see the World Health Organization fact sheet on the issue here.

The letter concludes:

 Although the trafficking of counterfeit drugs is currently illegal in the United States, the penalties for such activity are the same for the trafficking of other products. The Counterfeit Drug Penalty Enforcement Act would significantly and meaningfully increase penalties for the trafficking of counterfeit drugs to reflect the severity of the crime and the harm to the public. The proposed sanctions and sentencing guidelines would serve as powerful deterrents to pharmaceutical counterfeiting, greatly benefitting patient safety and health. 

 Additional details on the bill can be found here.