Senate Judiciary Committee Approves P2P Crackdown Bill

Gives Feds power to file CIVIL lawsuits against accused file-sharers which means the govt can sue you in court WITHOUT a court-appointed attorney for those unable to afford one.

The RIAA and MPAA are ratcheting up their efforts to combat copyright infringement in this country and around the world with the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recent passage of the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act by a 14-4 margin. Say what you will about Republicans, but it should be noted that all four dissenters were Republicans: John Kyl of Arizona, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Chief among the disturbing new powers the bill will grant to federal authorities is the power for the Attorney General to “…commence a civil action in the appropriate United States district court against any person who engages in conduct constituting an offense [of copyright infringement].” In other words, the Feds get to use taxpayer money and the full weight of law enforcement resources on behalf of copyright owners.

The scary thing is that in a civil lawsuit, unlike a criminal prosecution, the plaintiff is responsible for the cost of litigation. This means that just like standard MPAA or RIAA copyright cases where accuse file-sharers must come up with thousands of dollars to afford attorney’s fees so too must they now if the Feds are able to pursue them in civil court proceedings. The govt would now be able to try you in court without you having the benefit of adequate court-appointed legal representation.

To make matters worse, the of proof in a civil lawsuit is significantly easier to satisfy than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of a criminal case. In a civil lawsuit, the case must be proved by a “preponderance of the evidence,” that is, by enough evidence to conclude that it is more likely than not that the victim’s claims are true. Criminal prosecutions require a unanimous decision by all twelve jurors, which can be difficult to achieve. Civil lawsuits require agreement by only ten of twelve jurors for a decision. These significant differences between civil and criminal cases were highlighted in the highly publicized O.J. Simpson case. The families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were able to obtain a $33.5 million dollar settlement against O.J. Simpson in civil court even though he had been acquitted of the murders in the criminal prosecution.

“We all know that intellectual property makes up some of the most valuable, and most vulnerable, property we have,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who introduced the bill back in July with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) “We need to do more to protect it from theft and abuse if we hope to continue being a world leader in innovation.”

The bill will also create stricter IP laws and toughen civil and criminal laws against counterfeiting and piracy. The act also expands the power of the White House by creating an IP Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) position within the executive branch, and the IPEC will direct other agencies in a coordinated strategy to fight counterfeiting and piracy.

“Intellectual property is widely recognized as an important economic engine for this country,” said the undoubtedly giddy Mitch Bainwol, Chairman and CEO of the RIAA. “Real, bipartisan efforts to protect this national resource with new, meaningful tools are necessary to energize the economy and maintain our global competitiveness.  This legislation is a welcome verse in a great song. We applaud Senators Baucus and Hatch for their work.”

The bill also creates 5 new International Intellectual Property Law Enforcement Coordinators, in addition to those already serving, who shall be deployed “…to those countries and regions where the activities of such a coordinator can be carried out most effectively and with the greatest benefit to reducing counterfeit and pirated products in the United States market, to protecting the intellectual property rights of United States persons and their licensees, and to protecting the interests of United States persons otherwise harmed by violations of intellectual property rights in those countries.”

“We are pleased to see this important piece of legislation continue to move through the legislative process,” said a certainly likewise giddy Dan Glickman, Chairman and CEO of the MPAA. “During a time when America’s economy is struggling, it is encouraging to see Congress take action on a measure that will create jobs and promote American ingenuity. We are encouraged that the Senate Judiciary Committee has ushered this bill out of committee and are hopeful that Congress will adopt the legislation in these final weeks of the legislative session. There are few things more important that Congress can do in its closing weeks than to pass this meaningful legislation that will put more Americans to work and protect our nation’s intellectual property.”

Sadly, Glickman fails to note that the movie industry is in great shape, that it has enjoyed record profits for each of the last 5 years.

Moreover, the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act is a startling example of corporations attempting to abuse our legal system by tailoring it to meet their own fiscal needs. By allowing law enforcement to try you in court without the benefit of court-appointed legal representation we will effectively turn the executive branch of govt into a legal arm of the entertainment industry and vastly expand the number of accused file-sharers charged unable to properly defend themselves in court. We do this at great peril and create a precedent of mind boggling proportions.

With the federal govt already facing limited resources to combat much more important threats to society like guns, drugs, violence, and terrorism, is pursing John Doe for downloading a screener copy of “The Dark Knight” really in the best interests of society?

Shame on those who voted to pass this ball and a nod of congratulations is in order for those Republicans who voted against. It’s about time we had some Republicans, who are supposed to be for limiting the powers of the Federal govt, stand up for what they believe in.

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