Intellectual-Property Bill Introduced in Senate

Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act attempts to bring together Senate bills on subject, mirror House’s PRO-IP Act.

A bill that strengthens copyright and intellectual-property protection was introduced in the Senate to the applause of TV and movie studios, publishers (including B&C parent Reed Elsevier) and other content creators and distributors.

The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act attempts to bring together a number of Senate bills on the subject, as well as to mirror the PRO-IP Act, which passed earlier this year by a wide margin in the House.

The bill -- which has the backing of Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- would create a post in the White House to coordinate enforcement of IP laws by various government agencies; would require coordinating with Congress to develop a strategic play to combat IP theft; and would boost resources for IP enforcement, all similar to provisions in the House PRO-IP bill.

The Copyright Alliance, which includes the aforementioned content creators and distributors, praised the bill and urged its passage.

The Motion Picture Association of America, which shares some members with the Alliance, was pleased, as well. "It’s great to see bipartisan collaboration in the Senate on an issue that is so important not only to the motion-picture industry, which employs 1.3 million American workers and generates $30.25 billion in U.S. wages annually, but to our nation’s economy,” MPAA chairman Dan Glickman said.

One big difference between the new Senate bill and the PRO-IP Act, said Paul Sweeting, editor of Content Agenda (which is co-owned with B&C), is that it would allow the Justice Department to bring civil cases against suspected copyright infringers. Currently, it can only pursue criminal prosecutions and must rely on agrieved copyright owners to file civil suits.

"The idea, a favorite of Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, has been kicking around the Senate for years," Sweeting said. "Leahy included it as part of the PIRATE Act, which he first introduced in 2004 and which has passed the Senate three times since in various forms."

It was no favorite of Gigi Sohn, president of fair-use advocate Public Knowledge, who said, "This bill would turn the Justice Department into an arm of the legal departments of the entertainment companies by authorizing the DOJ to file civil lawsuits for infringement, forcing taxpayers to foot the bill."

Public Knowledge is also concerned about provisions allowing for the seizure of equipment.