Some new intellectual property (IP) enforcement legislation passed the U.S. House yesterday by a wide margin. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has been against the proposal since its inception, put out a release highlighting the silliness of creating a new presidential appointee (complete with official seal) specifically to oversee IP policy. But reading through the coverage of the bill, and wading through most of the bill itself, there's another part that seemed more alarming to me.
I've never studied law, but it looks like the bill allows the government to seize any computer used in the process of making unauthorized copies of audio recordings. In other words, if you're convicted in a civil or criminal case of posting songs to file-sharing networks, or making unauthorized live recordings and posting them to the Web, or using DeCSS to make unauthorized copies of a movie from a DVD...then say goodbye to the PC used in the process. (You can read the entire bill by submitting a search for "HR 4279" here.)
Obviously, this is intended to stop large-scale pirates--the folks burning millions of CDs for resale--but looking at some of the individuals sued by the RIAA, I wouldn't be surprised if some average folks are caught in the net. Of course, if you're on the hook for $220,000, like Jammie Thomas is, losing your PC is a small part of the overall penalty, but expanding goverment forfeiture rights to crack down on digital audio and video piracy seems a bit extreme to me.
It's just a bill, it hasn't been brought up in the Senate, so if you think this is a step too far, you have time to express your opinion to your senator.
Incidentally, the bill uses the term "phonorecord" to describe an audio recording. I just heard a presentation on IP law from one of my colleagues who's studying the topic right now, and he noted that "phonorecord" is standard language in the U.S. Code, and doesn't necessarily mean LP records. It's just one of those odd legal terms leftover from a bygone era.