March 24, 2010 | By corynne mcsherry

Public Interest Groups Call On IP Czar To Get The Priorities Straight

In comments filed today, EFF, Public Knowledge, the American Association of Law Libraries, the Medical Library Association, the Special Libraries Association and U.S. PIRG urged the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC), Victoria Espinel, to pay careful attention to the various costs and benefits of different enforcement mechanisms and objectives, and spend public funds on IP enforcement only where the alleged violations will cause significant economic harm under clearly settled legal rules.

Among other things, the comments suggest that the government should only spend our tax dollars on IP enforcement when (1) the costs of enforcement do not exceed the damages caused by the infringement; (2) the infringement meets the standards for criminal conduct; and (3) the infringement involves clear legal violations of the law, rather than a “gray area” activity that tests evolving legal or marketplace norms. Applying these principles should help avoid the use of public funds to chill competition and innovation.

The comments call on the IPEC to consider more creative solutions to thorny IP problems, such as promoting voluntary collective licensing and facilitating legal access to content through mechanical licensing at reasonable rates. Such solutions should prove more effective at discouraging infringement than the heavy-handed solutions often recommended by the entertainment industry.

The comments also urge the IPEC not to lose sight of broader foreign policy objectives. For instance, overly restrictive trade rules on pharmaceuticals can impede access to AIDS drugs. And, the IPEC should promote systems of IP enforcement that recognize and reflect both the strong protections for and careful limitations on IP rights. Laws and technologies that ostensibly target online copyright infringement can cause collateral damage: they may be overly punitive, for example, or may too easily be repurposed to bolster government censorship.

UPDATE: All the public comments provided to the IPEC have now been posted online.

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