Yesterday, the Department of Justice delivered a letter to Senators Specter and Leahy, blasting S.3325, the "Enforcement of Intellectual Property Right Act of 2008." In the letter, the DoJ echoes, almost exactly, the concerns that EFF and other public interest groups have had for months:
We strongly oppose Title I of the bill, which not only authorizes the Attorney General to pursue civil remedies for copyright infringement, but to secure "restitution" damages and remit them to the private owners of infringed copyrights. First, civil copyright enforcement has always been the responsibility and prerogative of private copyright holders, and U.S. law already provides them with effective legal tools to protect their rights....
Second, Title 1's departure from the settled framework above could result in Department of Justice prosecutors serving as pro bono lawyers for private copyright holders regardless of their resources. In effect, taxpayer-supported Department lawyers would pursue lawsuits for copyright holders, with monetary recovery going to industry.
Third, the Department of Justice has limited resources to dedicate to particular issues, and civil enforcement actions would occur at the expense of criminal actions, which only the Department of Justice may bring. In an era of fiscal responsibility, the resources of the Department of Justice should be used for the public benefit, not on behalf of particular industries that can avail themselves of the existing civil enforcement provisions.
Unfortunately, pressed by the entertainment industry, the Judiciary Committee has already approved S.3325, and the measure has been "hotlined" for speedy passage by unanimous consent. Let's hope that Congress, even if it won't listen to the public interest community, will listen when the Department of Justice itself says this is bad legislation.
UPDATE: Congress listens! At the request of Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the civil enforcement provisions have been stripped out of S.3325:
I am happy to announce that after substantial discussions Chairman Leahy and the Senate Judiciary Committee have agreed to remove provisions from S.3325 that would have resulted in a massive gift of scarce federal resources to Hollywood and the recording industry.