Last week’s police raid on Gizmodo blogger Jason Chen’s house, in response to a request from Apple Inc., has led many to wonder why government resources are being spent on a spat between Apple and Gizmodo.

But here at EFF, we are also wondering if we’ve just seen the future of copyright enforcement. Although the Gizmodo seizure doesn’t appear to be rooted in copyright, having cops kicking in doors over what seems like a private dispute reminded us of recent efforts by the big content industries to get law enforcement to go after “copyright thieves.”

Usually, copyright law requires copyright owners to do and pay for their own enforcement efforts – they don’t get the windfall of a limited monopoly, the hammer of statutory damages, and the ability to require the public to bankroll the enforcement for them. But the big content industries are trying to reverse that presumption, demanding (via wish lists sent to the new IP Czar last month) that federal agencies devote more resources to finding and catching “copyright thieves.” For example, the Motion Picture Association of American, the Recording Industry Association of America and others filed joint comments arguing among other things, that:

The planned release of a blockbuster motion picture should be acknowledged as an event that attracts the focused efforts of copyright thieves, who will seek to obtain and distribute pre-release versions and/or to undermine legitimate release by unauthorized distribution through other channels . . . An interagency task force should work with industry to coordinate and make advance plans to try to interdict these most damaging forms of copyright theft, and to react swiftly with enforcement actions where necessary.

In other words, while the movie studios are reporting record profits, we should deputize the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to provide taxpayer-supported muscle for summer blockbuster films.

This submission also urged state and local police to get involved in copyright policing, using “state labeling laws”: “State labeling laws that define unauthorized online file sharing and streaming as a felony would provide state and local law enforcement with jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute online theft of intellectual property.”

The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), which represents most of the entertainment industry’s biggest players, also wants to see a chilling expansion of law enforcement involvement in copyright enforcement, including:

  • empowering government agents to prosecute alleged infringements, whether or not a copyright owner has actually complained;
  • expanded "information sharing" between copyright owners and law enforcement, including border officials, i.e., a direct two-way pipeline between Big Media and the cops;
  • issuance and execution of search warrants without notice to the alleged infringer.

The Software Information Industry Association supports many similar measures, and also suggests that convicted infringers should be required to make public video confessions, to be posted online and "used for education in schools and in training programs."

If this wish list strikes you as disturbing, it should. Any government enforcement of copyrights should be focused on large scale, commercial infringements that can’t be adequately deterred by civil lawsuits, using the already powerful existing legal tools. The Gizmodo seizure reminds us that not only are our tax dollars at stake, but also our civil liberties. Whether you’re a blogger or a simple citizen, take note: if copyright policing becomes a regular item on the law enforcement agenda, you can expect more bogus search warrants, and more doors to be broken down.

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