Thursday, December 13, 2007

Proposed Congressional bill creates new copyright cops that can seize your home computer

A bipartisan group of Congressmen (and one woman) yesterday introduced a major bill aimed at boosting US intellectual property laws and the penalties that go along with them. While much of the legislation targets industrial counterfeiting and knockoff drugs, it also allows the government to seize people's computers.

The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (PRO IP... groan) Act of 2007 has the backing of many of the most powerful politicians on the House Judiciary Committee, including John Conyers (D-MI), Lamar Smith (R-TX), and "Hollywood" Howard Berman (D-CA).

In addition to strengthening both civil and criminal penalties for copyright and trademark infringement, the big development here is the proposed creation of the Office of the United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Representative (USIPER). This is a new executive branch office tasked with coordinating IP enforcement at the national and international level. To do this work internationally, the bill also authorizes US intellectual property officers to be sent to other countries in order to assist with crackdowns there. In addition, the Department of Justice gets additional funding and a new unit to help prosecute IP crimes.

A proposed bill now gives the government the ability to seize personal property, like the home computer, on suspicion of copyright infringement, and also proposes a new copyright police force to enforce existing laws.

GNN: As if the the government needs another excuse to seize personal property, these seizures have nothing to do with protecting national security but they do protect the bottom line for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The RIAA is no stranger to pressuring Congress to pass legislation criminalizing end users. The RIAA has advocated the denial of federal funding to colleges and college students who do not sign up to subscription-based downloading services

The bill, which will have a committee hearing soon, is supposed to kick-start the copyright reform process talked about for so long. But copyright reform means one thing to the PRO IP sponsors and another to the consumer groups that have been advocating for it.

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said in a statement, "seizing expensive manufacturing equipment used for large-scale infringement from a commercial pirate may be appropriate. Seizing a family's general-purpose computer in a download case, as this bill would allow, is not appropriate."

In addition, she protests the increase in "already extraordinary copyright damages" and calls for damages to be linked more closely to actual harm suffered by copyright holders.

The Digital Freedom Campaign, backed by the EFF, Public Knowledge, and the Consumer Electronics Association, was more muted in its criticism, instead choosing to praise the legislation for launching a "conversation" about copyright reform. The Digital Freedom Campaign's Maura Corbett said that meaningful copyright reform "must include limits on statutory damages and the codification of the vital principles of fair use," and she hopes that PRO IP "will serve as a catalyst to larger, more meaningful reform."

Fortunately, at least some members of the Judiciary Committee are at least aware that the consumer groups have legitimate points to make. Berman, who chairs the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property, announced that his subcommittee would hold a hearing next week on the issue.

"As a cosponsor, I obviously feel very strongly that we must strengthen enforcement efforts to fight piracy and counterfeiting," Berman said. "At the hearing, we will be hearing testimony from both industry experts and from labor and consumer advocates to make sure that in doing so, we don't deny appropriate access to America's intellectual property."

Who is thrilled with the bill? The MPAA, for one. MPAA head Dan Glickman, in a statement praising the new bill, said that "films left costs foreign and domestic distributors, retailers and others $18 billion a year," a significant increase from the $6 billion it allegedly costs the studios.

No comments:


The posting of stories, commentaries, reports, documents and links (embedded or otherwise) on this site does not in any way, shape or form, implied or otherwise, necessarily express or suggest endorsement or support of any of such posted material or parts therein.

The myriad of facts, conjecture, perspectives, viewpoints, opinions, analyses, and information in the articles, stories and commentaries posted on this site range from cutting edge hard news and comment to extreme perspectives. I choose not to sweep uncomfortable material under the rug - where it can grow and fester. I choose not to censor uncomfortable logic. These things reflect the world as it now is - for better and worse. I present multiple facts, perspectives, viewpoints, opinions, analyses, and information.

Journalism should be the profession of gathering and presenting a broad panorama of news about the events of our times and presenting it to readers for their own consideration. I believe in the intelligence, judgment and wisdom of my readers to discern for themselves among the data which appears on this site that which is valid and worthy...or otherwise