Policy

House Steps Back Into IP Enforcement

7/23/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

WASHINGTON — Yet another attempt to combat
overseas online piracy of TV shows, movies and more
was pilloried as an overreach by critics of the deepsixed
Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and likened to a
zombie reanimation of some parts of that legislation.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chair of the House Judiciary
Committee — whose SOPA bill was dismantled
a by Google-led coalition of Silicon Valley critics
— has introduced legislation that would implement
one element of SOPA: Beefing up international monitoring
by targeting an already-existing, Bush-era IP
attaché program to place monitors in U.S. embassies,
where they would do the most good.

Beefing up the attaché program had been one element
of the SOPA
bill — one that had
drawn criticism as
the heavy hand of
Hollywood reaching
across the
pond. TechDirt’s
Mike Masnick likened it to “pushing a copyright
‘maximalist’ position” on the rest of the world.

‘ZOMBIE SOPA’

But while the zombie pictures were appearing on
the Web in blogs and stories — including on website
TechCrunch and in U.S. News and World Report — and
SOPA foes were quick to take aim, one of SOPA’s strongest
Hill critics, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said he was
ready to back the bill with some modifications.

The bill would give the attaché program more weight
by moving it from the Patent and Trademark Office to the
Commerce Department and appointing an assistant secretary
of commerce for Intellectual property.

“The goal is to focus our efforts to deal with IP issues
at their source and use all of our trading tools as we work
with other countries,” Smith said in announcing the bill.

Issa said he would work to amend the bill to better
protect fair use, and said he was ready to support it with
adjustments.

Issa was a standard bearer for the anti-SOPA forces
when that bill was stymied last fall by a concerted effort
from Sillicon Valley to battle Hollywood studios’ push for
tougher IP enforcement.

As more video content moves online, program distributors
want to make sure it does not become open season
for pirates.

“The Intellectual Property Attaché Act is written to help
American individuals and companies that are experiencing
intellectual property infringement in certain foreign
countries,” Issa said last week. “The legislation will place
[U.S. Patent and Trademark Office] trained IP attachés
in countries around the world, focusing on areas where
American job creators and innovators are experiencing especially
high levels of IP theft.”

Public Knowledge, which prides itself on protecting fair
use rights, was not assuaged. In a letter to Smith and ranking
member John Conyers (D-Mich.), PK president Gigi
Sohn said her group opposed the legislation and pointed
to the language that had been in the SOPA bill. “I ask the
Judiciary Committee to withdraw the [bill] from consideration
and pursue an open dialogue with the public,” she
said in a statement.
But Public Knowledge and others were sending the signal
last week that they would be doing more than simply
asking Congress for dialogue.

SEND A ‘BAT SIGNAL’

In events planned for several key venues, PK, TechDirt
and others last week launched the Internet Defense
League, describing themselves as a digital version of
the “bat signal” used to alert Batman of trouble in Gotham
City.

In this case, the digital alert will be a code that allows
websites or individuals to broadcast an alert to their personal
networks.

The group, whose members include Issa, Public Knowledge,
Reddit, Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
describes itself as “thousands of websites, groups,
and individuals who can immediately respond to threats
to the Internet.”

The IDL is a project of nonprofit Fight For the Future,
which sponsored a number of anti-SOPA campaigns.

TAKEAWAY

Republicans narrow aim at
online piracy in new legislative
effort. Critics ready to return fire.

March