A bill to ratchet up the penalties for illegally copying and distributing copyrighted music and movies, or infringing on all sorts of other trademarks and service marks, has breezed though a House Committee. The bill would direct the Executive branch to create a department headed by an "Intellectual Property Czar" inside the Justice Department whose sole directive is to find and prosecute copyright infringement. Penalties for copyright infringement would also be increased dramatically, including confiscation of any equipment used for illegal downloading. Dude, you're not getting your Dell back.
The bill was initially and vigorously opposed by some in the tech community, most notably William Patry, senior copyright lawyer for Google, who called it the most "outrageously gluttonous IP bill ever introduced in the U.S." in a posting on his blog in December.
Patry and others opposed a section backed by the music industry that has since been struck from the bill. Referred to as the "compilation clause," it would have targeted users who illegally share music CDs, assigning penalties for each song pirated from a CD, rather than one penalty per disc. Even though the music industry lost the clause, it remains pleased with most of the bill. In March, Patry wrote on his blog that he was "very happy" the clause had been removed. He did not respond yesterday to an e-mail request for comment.
Spokesmen for the Bush administration and the Justice Department weighed in against the creation of the post, but the support for the bill is so great that Congress may be able to override a veto of bill anyway.
"Establishing such an office would undermine the traditional independence of the Department of Justice in criminal enforcement matters," department spokesman Peter Carr wrote in an e-mail yesterday. "Establishing such an office in [the White House] would codify precisely the type of political interference in the independent exercise of DOJ prosecutorial judgment that many members of Congress and senators have alleged over the last couple years."
The Senate version of the bill was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont last year.