New Law Hikes IP Infringement Penalties

Published December 1, 2008

A new federal law provides increased penalties for intellectual property infringements and creates an executive-level position in the White House for a “copyright czar” responsible for intellectual property enforcement strategy.

The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act (PRO-IP Act) of 2008 was signed into law by President George W. Bush in mid-October.

‘A Horrible Bill’

Many industry experts say the measure will hurt America’s technology sector.

“This is a horrible bill; it works to the detriment of the American economy,” said Bruce Abramson, CEO of San Francisco-based, a consulting company dealing with information policy issues. “It moves things in the wrong direction. It will work to counter developments in technology.”

Today’s technology enables anyone with a little computer aptitude to copy any content that has been digitized, which makes it difficult to enforce existing copyright laws. But putting into place draconian rules and penalties won’t stop the practice, Abramson says, and could result in innocent people being punished.

The law as first written was even more imposing. The House version included a clause allowing the Justice Department to file civil suits against people allegedly infringing intellectual property rights. That provision was dropped from the bill before it passed the Senate.

‘Ideas Are All We Have’

Among the law’s supporters are copyright holders such as the recording industry, who see it as a necessary protection for their investments.

“With the rise of the ‘service economy,’ ideas are all we have,” said Kristin Thistle, marketing executive with Quantified Marketing Group in Orlando, Florida. “I’m relieved to see that Congress is finally taking the protection of ideas seriously. I work for a marketing company, and we put food on the table by coming up with great ideas.

“My company is currently in a fight-to-the-death intellectual property lawsuit, and the passing of this law has helped our case,” Thistle said. “Some people think the Justice Department is trying to go ‘Big Brother’ on everyone, and I think that’s the main reason [the clause allowing the government to bring civil suits] was pulled. It probably wouldn’t have been passed if that stayed in.”

But Abramson notes the new damage awards mean the cost of fighting any lawsuit will be so high most defendants will automatically settle because they don’t have the deep pockets of the music companies or other content providers.

Calls for Reform

A better solution, according to Abramson, would be a fully new copyright law that takes into account digital-age technologies. Compensation for content providers would likely need to change to reflect today’s downloading and content-copying environment.

Lynne Robin Green, president of Burbank, California-based and administrator of 32 other artist song catalogs, disagrees.

“Hundreds of thousands of infringements have appeared all over the Web in the last six years of our copyrighted published songs and of recordings we own too,” Green said. “Policing this is a total nightmare, as is the loss of revenue cumulatively and continually.

“It’s obvious to me that [the law’s opponents] want music and art to be royalty-free, and diluting this bill is part of that desecration of the protection of our intellectual property rights,” Green continued. “So where does it end? Authors need this help and copyright protections to earn from their life’s works.”

Abramson says content providers such as Green really have little choice but to focus more on earning income from live performances, because “a digital bit string [the essence of digital music] is impossible to control.”

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.

For more information …

The PRO-IP Act: