As legislators fumble about and point fingers over who is to blame for recent stalls to a $700 billion economic bailout plan, a stringent piracy bill recently passed through the House and Senate like fish in a barrel. The PRO-IP bill, endorsed by the music industry, Hollywood corporations, and manufacturers, now awaits the President’s signature to become law. The 63-page bill (available here) would tighten the scrutiny on IP pirates. Under the Act, the civil courts are granted more latitude in seizing property. The new standard of seizure would be “any property used, or intended to be used, in any manner or part” for copyright offenses. Additionally, the bill adds a Copyright Czar to the President’s cabinet.
The responsibilities of the Copyright Czar include reporting “directly to the President and Congress regarding domestic international intellectual property enforcement programs.” The czar would also be accountable for a nationwide strategy to reduce piracy.
Whether George Bush will sign the bill is simply conjecture. The President could veto the bill on a Constitutional basis, arguing that requiring a cabinet appointee violates the separation of powers claus. This is perhaps pretext to avoiding responsibility for a potential War on Piracy. One indication that the President may sign the bill was Congress’ recent compromise to remove a section authorizing the Department of Justice to represent copyright owners in civil suits. Last week, the White House, the DOJ, and digital rights groups were lobbying for Congress to remove the section.
Nonetheless, the PRO-IP bill sits at the President’s desk, and digital rights advocates remain agitated.
“The bill only adds more imbalance to a copyright law that favors large media companies," wrote Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, “At a time when the entire digital world is going to less restrictive distribution models, and when the courts are aghast at the outlandish damages being inflicted on consumers in copyright cases, this bill goes entirely in the wrong direction.”