After tackling patent reform, the House of Representatives
seeks to strength enforcement against piracy, trademark
infringement and copyright infringement. On December 5, 2007,
leaders of the Judiciary Committee introduced the
"Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual
Property Act of 2007" (PRO IP Act) (H.R. 4279).
Major features of the PRO IP Act include establishing the
Office of the United States Intellectual Property Enforcement
Representative (USIPER), which would serve as the
President's chief intellectual property advisor, as well as
creating an Intellectual Property Enforcement Division within
the DOJ. The Act also strengthens current laws, such as
increasing the copyright damages recoverable by allowing each
song to be counted as a separate offense. The Act also allows
the DOJ to seize and auction any computer or other property
used to "facilitate" a copyright crime (called
"Civil Action Forfeiture").
The Act received significant support in a December 13
hearing before the House Subcommittee on Courts, The Internet,
and Intellectual Property. NBC Executive Vice President and
General Counsel Rick Cotton, representing the Coalition Against
Counterfeiting and Piracy, declared that "The Pro IP Act
is a needed declaration of war, escalating the priority of this
vital public policy by deploying dedicated enforcement
resources to the battle."
Teamsters president Jim Hoffa also testified to support the
Act. "Some people might think it's no big deal to buy
a knockoff handbag or fake DVD, but it is." Hoffa
continued, "These crimes kill jobs—good jobs
that my union has fought to protect for more than a hundred
years." Hoffa testified that the American entertainment
industry loses approximately 370,000 jobs yearly due to lost
revenue from pirated and counterfeit media.
The Chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America
Dan Glickman commented in a statement, "I believe that the
American business community can speak in one voice today in
support of these legislative efforts to protect intellectual
property. He continued, "I am pleased to see a concerted
effort by Congress to address this growing problem."
The Act has its critics, however. Gigi B. Sohn, representing
the public interest group Public Knowledge, testified,
"The bill rightly targets enforcement of copyright law
against commercial infringers, but some of these same
enforcement provisions are likely to hurt ordinary
consumers." Regarding the damages proposals, Sohn stated,
"Increasing penalties is one of the least necessary, and
quite possibly counter-productive, actions the Committee could
take." "Instead of following the course of this
bill," Sohn testified, "the Committee should look to
the future, to a more realistic and rational copyright regime
that can adapt pre-VCR copyright laws to a post-YouTube
Google's senior copyright counsel, William Patry,
commented on his personal blog that the Act may be the
"most outrageously gluttonous IP bill ever introduced in
the U.S." Regarding the damages proposals, Patry stated,
"[This] is intended to benefit the record industry but
will have terrible consequences for many others; the provision
has nothing to do with piracy and counterfeiting; instead it
seeks to undo rulings in the 2000 MP3.com litigation, a
decidedly non-piracy or counterfeiting case." The
"zero tolerance" of the Act is dangerous, Patry
warns, because it "threatens respect for law itself.
People do not obey laws they abhor, and there is much to abhor
in H.R. 4279."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has also expressed
criticism of the Act. "If the entertainment industry wants
to pile on extraordinary penalties for the commercial
pirates," writes EFF Activist Richard Esquerra, "it
also seems like a good time to make adjustments that recognize
that lesser penalties are appropriate for noncommercial,
personal copying." "Unfortunately," states
Esquerra, "the PRO IP Act is just another in a long line
of one-way ratchet proposals that amplifies copyright without
protecting innovators or technology users."
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