It only took a few days after politicians returned from their summer holidays for Hollywood and the major record labels to resume their legislative push to rewrite and expand digital copyright law.
The Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America are lobbying for a pair of bills that enjoy bipartisan support. Both are designed to give the federal government more power to police copyright violations, and both are likely to run into opposition from political foes of the RIAA and MPAA.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the so-called Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act, a 46-page bill that was introduced in July by Vermont's Patrick Leahy and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, the committee's top Democrat and Republican.
The measure represents a fusion of previous bills, including ones that have enjoyed support in both the Senate and House of Representatives, and one that Leahy introduced in November 2007. One of the more controversial sections of the latest version would permit the Justice Department to file a civil lawsuit against "any person" committing a copyright violation--which would include thousands, or perhaps millions, of piratical peer-to-peer users.
A group of librarians and nonprofit groups, including the American Library Association, Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sent a letter to senators on Wednesday that says copyright holders--and not government lawyers funded by tax dollars--should be the ones filing the lawsuits.
"Movie and television producers, software publishers, music publishers, and print publishers all have their own enforcement programs," the letter says. "There is absolutely no reason for the federal government to assume this private enforcement role." (The letter also criticizes the bill's criminal and civil forfeiture sections, and impounding of business records pre-trial if someone is accused of copyright infringement.)
The second RIAA- and MPAA-backed bill was introduced by senators Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, on Wednesday. It's called the International Intellectual Property Protection and Enforcement Act, and it aims to ratchet up copyright pressure against countries that the U.S. Trade Representative deems to be taking too few steps against piracy.
"We can't let other countries repeatedly rip off the movies Americans make, the products Americans design and the other fruits of American ingenuity without taking some action," Baucus said in a statement.
The Baucus-Hatch bill says that the executive branch "shall develop an action plan" against such nations, with benchmarks including "adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights." Failure to meet those benchmarks may result in the Feds suspending government procurement contracts involving that nation, and halting loans and development aid, including credit from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
Another section says the president "shall ensure that an intellectual property attache with the title of Minister-Counselor is placed in the United States embassy of each foreign country with which the President determines the United States has a commercially significant relationship."
The RIAA applauded the bill in a statement, saying it will "protect this national resource with new, meaningful tools." The MPAA's Dan Glickman said: "We appreciate the leadership of Chairman Baucus and Senator Hatch. Their efforts to strengthen the enforcement of U.S. intellectual property rights around the world are critical to protecting the many American business sectors and American workers that depend on intellectual property."