Bush administration opposes RIAA-backed copyright bill

Bill backed by large copyright holders including the MPAA and RIAA seemed like it might become law. Now it's run into an implied veto threat from the White House.

The Bush administration has announced its strong opposition to a bill backed by the recording industry that would let federal prosecutors file civil lawsuits against peer-to-peer pirates.

In a letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that amounts to a veto threat, the administration said it was "deeply concerned" that the proposal would divert resources from criminal prosecution to civil enforcement, and create "unnecessary bureaucracy." Currently prosecutors have authority to file criminal charges.

The two-page letter said that copyright owners already have plenty of legal methods to target infringers, including seeking injunctions, impounding infringing materials, recovering actual damages plus statutory damages, and, in some cases, obtaining attorney's fees. The letter was signed by Keith Nelson, a principal deputy assistant attorney general, and Lily Fu Claffee, the Commerce Department's general counsel.

The bill in question is called the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act, which the Senate Judiciary Committee approved in a 14-4 vote on September 11.

In addition, the administration said the bill was "objectionable on constitutional grounds" because it would create an "IP coordinator" inside the White House, the organization of which is traditionally a presidential prerogative.

It's relatively rare for a pair of federal agencies to oppose a bipartisan bill so strongly--Republican co-sponsors include Arlen Specter and Orrin Hatch--and the implied threat of a veto is likely to doom the proposal in its current form. (It has echoes of the Bush administration's opposition to an anti-China Internet bill earlier this year, which has gone nowhere since.)

Because usual congressional schedules are in disarray because of the November election, and because work on appropriations bills is even more behind schedule than usual, there's not much time left for Congress to return to this topic and negotiate a compromise this year.

Supporters of the bill include the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Opponents include the American Library Association and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

 

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