May 8, 2008 | By Richard Esguerra

House Passes Controversial PRO IP Act

Today, the House passed the controversial PRO IP Act (H.R. 4279) 410 to 11, with 12 representatives not voting.

While Public Knowledge and other groups successfully persuaded the House to remove the most damaging provision in the bill (seemingly written solely to increase damages in the RIAA's file-sharing lawsuit campaign), the bill would nonetheless significantly expand federal enforcement of copyright law.

The most outrageous provisions would create new and unnecessary federal bureaucracies devoted to intellectual property enforcement. None seems more ridiculous than language creating a Cabinet-level "IP enforcement czar" that would report to the President and coordinate enforcement efforts across government, a proposal that has been loudly opposed by the Department of Justice. Why is Congress spending our tax dollars on a new layer of officialdom that the cops themselves don't want or need?

Moreover, the bill also includes provisions — such as expanded forfeiture penalties and language "clarifying" that copyright registration is not required for criminal enforcement of the copyright -- that could be read to open the door to increased prosecution against individuals or innovators as well as large-scale commercial pirates.

The Senate has yet to introduce a companion bill, although some IP enforcement proposals in the Senate may serve as a basis for a bill. Stay tuned for more information should a bill turn up.

But there is a bright spot on the horizon -- Congress is finally revisiting important "orphan works" legislation that could expand the ability of technology users, archivists and libraries to store and exhibit works whose owners can't be found.

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