EFF – New US Copyright Enforcement Proposal and ACTA Could be a Catastrophe

There is a new proposal that could further restrict copyright laws in the United States.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

With the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) on the minds of many people around the world, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is calling the new copyright proposals potentially catastrophic.

Copyright and surveillance laws have been the subject of much discussion in the last few months. While some are more specifically copyright related pieces and others are more surveillance and privacy related, they all could affect peoples digital lives. For some, it’s hard to imagine that copyright laws could get much worse in the United States, but that is exactly what could be happening if the latest proposals actually make it to law.

The EFF has no doubt spent the week analyzing the “Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act of 2008” and what it could mean for the average American.

The first point the EFF makes is that the proposal would give the Attorney General brand new powers to file copyright infringement lawsuits against average people on the record labels behalf. There’s little wonder why the EFF calls this aspect disturbing since it would effectively mean that tax-payers would then be funding the RIAAs lawsuit campaign that has financially devastated thousands of citizens. The argument is that the “milder” cases could be covered by the Attorney General while the RIAA targets larger operations. “This new provision would allow the AG to sidestep that high burden of proof,” the EFF comments in their analysis, “a burden that gives the average citizen an important measure of protection from the overwhelming power of the government.”

The EFF further analyzed the proposal with the following:

The bill also seeks to create an Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator position in the Executive Office, with an advisory committee consisting of members from various government departments and agencies. Given the extraordinary budget pressures lawmakers now face, it is shocking that they would consider funding a new layer of federal bureaucracy. In fact, the DoJ itself has spoken out against similar Congressional efforts to rearrange its priorities with bureaucratic meddling.

There’s more: another provision creates new categories of infringement at the border, suggesting that individuals need the permission of copyright holders to bring copies of music or movies with them overseas or even through the United States. If the bill is passed, something as simple as taking your iPod to Mexico could be considered an infringement of the copyright owners’ distribution right. The bill also proposes to lengthen the list of items that can be impounded as part of a civil copyright infringement suit, while broadening the list of articles that can be seized and destroyed by the government. (Meanwhile, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is being negotiated in secret by a number of countries, pairing this unprecedented public threat with a potentially catastrophic secret one.)

Whether or not you believe the entertainment industry’s claims about the extent of the piracy problem, there is no reason the American taxpayer should be picking up Hollywood’s legal costs when while movie studios are celebrating record box office returns and record-breaking single-title revenues.

ACTA has obviously been in the copyright discussions internationally for some time now. Last week, we reported that the ACTA discussions would continue this week in Australia; as per usual, in secret for the most part. It was discussed partially in Europe after we contains a legislative back-door for ACTA.

Perhaps one of the unique aspects that is difficult to grasp is that ACTA transcends borders. It’s not simply some law being made up in some far away land for some far away land. It’s an international proposal that many countries will be pressured to adopt. It’s unlike the FRA law that just affects Swedish citizens and people accessing Sweden through the internet. It isn’t just Bill C-61 that just affects Canadians. This isn’t just the DMCA that the copyright industry frequently pretends that it applies in countries outside the US as well as inside the US. This is an international law proposal that will affect many people around the world.

Nevertheless, the US IP enforcement law is definitely a piece of legislation to watch for. If there is anything that the proposal proves already, it’s that the copyright industry operating in the US will never be fully satisfied with the laws and will keep demanding more no matter what the cost.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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