Sweeping IP reform sails through half of congress

Redoubling its commitment to fight piracy, the U.S. senate passed sweeping intellectual property legislation set to install a new position in the presidential cabinet: that of the “Copyright Czar”.

S. 3325, commonly known as the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act of 2008, sailed through the Senate Friday in a unanimous, bipartisan consent vote.

The Copyright Czar, known formally as the “Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator,” will report directly to the White House and Congress while creating and executing nationwide anti-piracy initiatives. These policies will govern oversee nearly all forms of intellectual property in the United States, including digital media, counterfeit goods, and the “unauthorized recording of motion pictures.”

While the IPEC will head an “advisory committee” for the assistance of its duties, S. 3325 explicitly limits its power over other government agencies: exercising control of “any law enforcement agency, including the Department of Justice,” is forbidden.

According to Wired’s Threat Level, labor unions, manufacturers, the content industry, and the United States Chamber of Commerce backed S. 3325 heavily.

The bill originally included a provision that would see the Department of Justice filing copyright infringement lawsuits on behalf of the entertainment industry; however, it appears that those sections were removed at the DOJ’s behest (PDF).

“[EIPRA] will undermine existing intellectual property enforcement efforts by diminishing the effective use of limited criminal enforcement resources and creating unnecessary bureaucracy,” it wrote. “It will also improperly micro-manage the internal organization of the Executive Branch.”

The DOJ also noted that the IPEC already exists as a position in the commerce department, and raised constitutional objections to its appointment to the presidential cabinet. Such a change “constitutes a legislative intrusion into the internal structure and composition of the President's Administration,” and cannot be allowed due to the principle of separated government powers.

A number of digital and public rights groups, including Public Knowledge, joined the DOJ in opposing the bill.

Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn said she was “pleased” that the DOJ is relieved of its lawsuit requirement.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce heralded S. 3325 as a win for IP creators.

“This is a win for both parties and, more importantly, for America's innovators, workers whose jobs rely on intellectual property, and consumers who depend on safe and effective products," said Chamber CEO Tom Donohue.

S. 3325 represents the latest development in an ongoing, divergent attitude between judicial and legislative branches of the U.S. government. With civil courts, at both state and federal levels, issuing a string of rulings against the content industry – including, most recently, ordering the retrial Jammie Thomas’ $222,000 jury verdict – it appears that content executives are pushing heavily for legislative change in order to shore up their positions. This effort, which includes lawmaking in both the congressional and international arenas, could make future piracy far more dangerous for infringers.

"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes

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