White House establishes position with measure

The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill Wednesday that will establish a White House position on intellectual property rights as well as raise the priority of IP protection in general.

In a voice vote, the committee approved the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act, more commonly referred to as the PRO-IP Act.

In addition to establishing a White House position, the PRO-IP Act provides more resources for various governmental agencies involved in the fight against bootlegging in all its forms.

Only one amendment was attached to the bill, essentially a clarification that some agencies wanted. The amendment was said to make clear that the White House position would not dictate agencies’ actions or policies on IP protection but would be more for facilitating and coordinating cooperation among agencies.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) raised the only concern about the bill, saying the language regarding seizure of property involved in IP theft could “inadvertently punish innocent bystanders.”

If, for example, a child uses a parent’s computer for illegal downloading without the parent’s knowledge or approval, the parent’s computer could be seized, Lofgren said.

She also worried about “innocent people” possibly being coerced into paying a settlement.

“The recording industry has made a business out of extorting money from students” whose computers are used by others for illegal downloading, Lofgren said. “This could be the same type of situation.”

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), a co-author of the PRO-IP Act, assured Lofgren that the bill stipulates a seizure of property could only occur when “a substantial connection” exists between the property and the material stolen. He also said he disagreed with Lofgren’s characterization of the recording industry’s legal actions as “extortion.”

The Motion Picture Assn. of America welcomed the House vote, as did the Copyright Alliance, a coalition of IP-interested businesses that includes Daily Variety‘s parent company, Reed Elsevier.

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