Agencies take issues with property rights bill

Two federal agencies have objected to provisions in a pending intellectual property rights bill that showbiz supports.

The Depts. of Justice and Commerce sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee declaring “strong and significant” opposition to provisions that would essentially confer on U.S. attorneys the authority to pursue civil copyright cases. That authority is spelled out in two sections of the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act of 2008, which is waiting for a full Senate vote.

“We are deeply concerned that the proposed legislation will undermine existing intellectual property enforcement efforts by diminishing the effective use of limited criminal enforcement resources and creating unnecessary bureaucracy,” the letter said. “It will also improperly micro-manage the internal organization of the Executive Branch.”

Civil copyright infringement cases have long been the responsibility of individual copyright owners, and U.S. law already provides owners with multiple means of recourse, the letter continued.

The provision allowing the Dept. of Justice to pursue civil cases “could result in (DOJ) prosecutors serving as pro bono lawyers for private copyright holders regardless of their resources. In effect, taxpayer-supported lawyers would pursue lawsuits for copyright holders, with monetary recovery going to industry,” the letter said.

The ensuing strain on DOJ resources would pose a further problem. “In an era of fiscal responsibility, the resources of the Dept. 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.”

Another provision in the EIPRA would move the position of federal IP czar, currently at the Commerce Dept., to inside the White House. Such a move would constitute “a legislative intrusion into the internal structure and composition of the president’s administration. This provision is therefore objectionable on constitutional separation of powers grounds,” the letter said.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America, which has endorsed the EIPRA and lobbied for its approval, said: “Supporters of this bill want to work constructively with the administration as we try to move forward this legislation, which is necessary to protect a vital segment of the economy and promises to produce good-paying jobs for Americans.”

Consumer watchdog group Public Knowledge, which has opposed the provision conferring civil copyright authority on DOJ, welcomed news of the letter. “As Public Knowledge has said repeatedly, the private sector has all the resources necessary to pursue cases that companies want to pursue,” Public Knowledge prexy Gigi B. Sohn said in a statement. “The government should not be turned into the law firm for wealthy copyright holders.”

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