On Monday, President Bushed signed a controversial intellectual property enforcement bill into law. This set of proposals for heightened intellectual property enforcement first appeared at the end of 2007 in the House's original PRO IP Act. The winding history of the bill not only sheds light on the agenda of the entertainment industry, but leads to an instructive conclusion -- that the vigilance of public interest groups and involved citizens is having a positive impact on copyright policy.
Many elements of the entertainment industry's wish list for this session of Congress went unfulfilled, largely thanks to the efforts of Public Knowledge. Some of the provisions stripped from the bill since last year include:
- Higher damages for filesharing. We originally reported on this provision when the bill was first introduced in the House. The initial draft sought to allow the entertainment industry to seek damages per song as opposed to per album as is the case now. This provision was removed after a "Copyright Office roundtable" on the provision revealed that it was not at all necessary to increase damages. And since then, we've seen at least one judge implore Congress to do something about "unprecedented and oppressive" damage awards in filesharing cases.
- Vast government IP enforcement bureaucracy. The original "IP Czar" language created more than an administrative role -- it would have established an entire IP enforcement bureaucracy. The bill that passed on Monday appears to simply move the existing "International Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator" from the Department of Commerce to the Executive Office of the President, notably lacking language providing explicit authority to hire, fire, and create new bureaucracies for intellectual property enforcement.
- Pro bono government lawyers. The Senate, which redrafted the bill after receiving it from the House, originally sought to enable the Attorney General to file civil lawsuits for copyright infringement on behalf of copyright holders. This offended the Department of Justice (DoJ), which balked at the prospect of becoming "pro bono lawyers for private copyright holders regardless of their resources." The DoJ argued against the provision in a letter and Senator Wyden was successful in having it removed.
It's important to recognize that even in the face of the bill's signing, we've won some key battles. With your vigilance on copyright issues and by taking actions with public interest organizations like EFF and Public Knowledge, we can make even greater progress in keeping bad law from being made.