So, I have been reading a lot about copyright issues lately, and today I read on the Public Knowledge Blog that the US Senate is close to passing the Intellectual Property Enforcement Bill. The official title is "A bill to enhance remedies for violations of intellectual property laws, and for other purposes", but I view the bill as a way for the MPAA and RIAA to get the taxpayers to pay for the 6,000 annual lawsuits that they file every year.
Many of these lawsuits are frivolous in nature, and as a result they are settled out of court, for significantly less than the cost of the lawsuit, because defendants cannot afford to pay legal fees in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend themselves, nor can they pay the millions of dollars the organizations ask to recieve. The way that the MPAA and RIAA intend on cutting costs is to have the Senate pass a bill to allow the Department of Justice to sue American citizens on their behalf.
There are a few things wrong with this picture: the Department of Justice is being involved in civil lawsuits, the Department of Justice is representing corporations, and it relieves the copyright holders the responsibility to enforce their own copyrights. I do not like the idea that our government is doing the dirty work for the content industry in this country, however I must admit that I do like the clause about defendants receiving free legal representation (especially because these types of court cases can be drawn out as long as a decade.)
However, I am worried about one tiny piece of information that also ties very closely to this matter. The NET act of 1998. NET stands for No Electronic Theft. This takes normal copyright infringement cases, and turns a civil infraction into a felony. If the DOJ is enforcing copyrights, then many of these civil cases could actually play through to completion (rather than settling out of court), and the results from the civil cases can be used as evidence in criminal (felony) cases. This is especially bad because technically, according to recent estimates, means that almost a quarter of all Americans are felons.
The other part that worries me is that the MPAA and RIAA have been known to take on ridiculous cases such as: a student who modified an intranet search engines to allow the users to search by any file type($12,000: his college fund), or the twelve year old girl who downloaded 1 song ($2,000: her life's savings). Both of these cases were multi million dollar lawsuits, and the defendants settled out of court because they had no money to defend themselves, but is it right to make the taxpayers pay to enforce cases that take years to fight? Shouldn't we restrict how much the MPAA and RIAA can sue for? Shouldn't the fee be close the the fair market value of the product plus a reasonable fee? If you stole a CD from the shelf, it would be a misdemeanor, but if you download that same album off of the Internet it's a felony; is that justice?
I know I don't have all the answers, but Bill S. 3325 is not the solution. We need to restrict the authority of the MPAA and RIAA, not expand it.
Here is a letter expressing concerns in more legal\professional terms
P.S.: Call your Senator, or loose your freedom. It's your choice.