The still-controversial Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (or PRO-IP) Act has passed the House of Representatives by a 410-10 margin.
The proposed legislation would allow the government to seize personal property, such as computers, that are allegedly used in copyright infringement. In addition, it creates a new position within the Executive Office of the President responsible for advising on intellectual property matters – known colorfully as the “IP Czar.” The IP Czar’s duties are currently performed by the U.S. Trade Representative, which makes this position somewhat redundant.
The original bill called for exorbitant fines for infringement, effectively destroying companies and people who may have simply made a mistake and had no malice or intentional desire to infringe.
But here’s the twist: the Bush Administration is against the PRO-IP act. The Department of Justice claims the position is unnecessary, and would infringe upon their traditional role of prosecuting such cases.
The most outrageous provisions would create new and unnecessary federal bureaucracies devoted to intellectual property enforcement. None seems more ridiculous than language creating a Cabinet-level “IP enforcement czar” that would report to the President and coordinate enforcement efforts across government, a proposal that has been loudly opposed by the Department of Justice. Why is Congress spending our tax dollars on a new layer of officialdom that the cops themselves don’t want or need?
Moreover, the bill also includes provisions — such as expanded forfeiture penalties and language “clarifying” that copyright registration is not required for criminal enforcement of the copyright — that could be read to open the door to increased prosecution against individuals or innovators as well as large-scale commercial pirates.
There is reason for DOJ to be concerned. Does “enforcement efforts across government” with IP concerns mean going after Al Qaeda if they make a video using “I’ll Be Watching You” by The Police? Imagine the sting of those charges.
Previously, to obtain statutory damages in an infringement case, an IP holder was to have registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. The proposed law appears to do away with that, lowering the bar to include more frivolous law suits and potentially tying up DOJ resources on what are currently settled civil cases.
The DOJ doesn’t seem to want to police college students downloading music, or middle-schoolers who use pictures of frogs from stock photo sites in their homework projects. And so an agency battle begins, and chaos ensues. Next step: an attempt to introduce and secure similar legislation in the Senate.