Senate unanimously passes RIAA-backed bill

The U.S. House of Representatives will be taking up an intellectual-property bill unanimously passed by the Senate on Friday before Congress adjourns this week.

This post was updated at 4:25 p.m. PDT with more details.

The U.S. Senate on Friday unanimously passed a bipartisan bill backed by groups like the recording industry and the labor movement that would increase federal protections over intellectual property.

Introduced in July by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act now moves to the House of Representatives, where it will be taken up either Friday or Saturday, before Congress adjourns.

The bill was stripped of a controversial measure that would have given federal prosecutors the power to file civil lawsuits against peer-to-peer users who violate copyright laws. The Commerce Department and Justice Department voiced their opposition to the provision in a letter this week, saying it would create "unnecessary bureaucracy."

The legislation still provides increased resources for the Justice Department to combat intellectual property theft and provide coordination for federal and state efforts against counterfeiting and piracy. It also increases penalties for intellectual property infringements.

Not all of the Bush administration's objections with the legislation were addressed, however. The bill replaces the body that currently enforces intellectual property law with a White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator. The new coordinator will chair an inter-agency committee to combat counterfeiting and piracy. In its letter, the administration said the establishment of a White House IP coordinator was "objectionable on constitutional grounds."

The Commerce Department said it is still reviewing the legislation as it was passed.

The Recording Industry of America gave resounding praise for the bill.

"At a critical economic juncture, this bipartisan legislation provides enhanced protection for an important asset that helps lead our global competitiveness," RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol said. "Additional tools for intellectual-property enforcement are not just good for the copyright community but for consumers who will enjoy a wider array of legitimate offerings."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who pushed to have the controversial Justice Department provision removed, was still dissatisfied with the state of the bill.

"The legislation still includes provisions that overzealous federal prosecutors could misconstrue to allow the seizure of important components of our Internet infrastructure," he said in a statement.

Other groups opposed to the bill also spoke out Friday.

"At a time when the entire digital world is going to less restrictive distribution models, and when the courts are aghast at the outlandish damages being inflicted on consumers in copyright cases, this bill goes entirely in the wrong direction," said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge.

Rick Cotton, executive vice president and general counsel of NBC Universal, said concerns that the bill goes too far are unfounded.

"Over the last 20 years, the flood of physical counterfeit projects and the scale of digital theft (have) gone off the chart," he said. "What drives (the U.S. economy are) precisely technical invention, innovation, and creativity--if we don't protect that, we dramatically undermine our economic future."

Along with the recording industry, the bill is backed by the Chamber of Commerce, and labor groups like the AFL-CIO and Change to Win.
 

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