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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will go after foreign websites that pirate American music and movies as part of a new strategy to stop sales of counterfeit and pirated goods at home and abroad, Vice President Joe Biden said on Tuesday.
"This is theft, clear and simple," Biden said at a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and other Cabinet officials.
"It's smash and grab, no different than a guy walking down Fifth Avenue and smashing the window at Tiffany's and reaching in and grabbing what's in the window," Biden said, referring to the jewellery store in New York City.
U.S. businesses estimate they lose billions of dollars each year to piracy and counterfeiting of items including films, music and consumer goods. They also blame the illegal trade for hundreds of thousands of lost U.S. jobs.
"It is especially critical that the United States has an effective framework for protecting creative content online and enforcing intellectual property rights in the digital environment," said Bob Pisano, interim chief executive officer at the Motion Picture Association of America.
U.S. computer and video game makers also cheered the promise of tougher enforcement.
The National Association of Manufacturers urged the administration to focus especially on China, which it has called "ground zero" for piracy and counterfeiting.
The U.S. Trade Representative's office has battled for years to close websites in Russia, China and other countries that sell pirated American music and films.
Biden said the United States would exert more pressure on foreign governments to shut down the sites by "being as public as we possibly can" about illegal activity.
"As we shine the spotlight on foreign governments that have rogue actors doing illicit business within their borders, it's the government's responsibility to respond," he said.
Biden did not mention any foreign websites by name. A recent USTR report said China's top Internet search firm, Baidu Inc, was associated with between 50 percent and 75 percent of illegal music downloads in China.
Several Russian websites still provide illegal downloads, even though the most notorious and formerly largest site, Allofmp3, was shut down in 2007, the USTR report said.
The plan, mandated by Congress in 2008, also includes steps to ensure the federal government does not buy counterfeit goods. Biden framed that issue as a matter of both safety and national security, noting the risk of sending soldiers into combat with counterfeit Kevlar vests.
The strategy also includes new steps aimed at stopping the importation of counterfeit goods ranging from toothpaste and clothing to auto parts to medicine.
"The theft of virtually everything Americans make, create and innovate has been facilitated by the lack of a comprehensive strategy to put these thieves out of business," David Hirschmann, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Intellectual Property Centre, said in a statement welcoming Biden's announcement.
(Editing by John O'Callaghan)
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