White House will propose new digital copyright laws

President Obama's copyright coordinator says she will send new proposals to curb Internet piracy and IP infringement to the U.S. Congress "in the very near future."

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read

The Obama administration has drafted new proposals to curb Internet piracy and other forms of intellectual property infringement that it says it will send to the U.S. Congress "in the very near future."

It's also applauding a controversial copyright treaty known as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, saying it will "aid right-holders and the U.S. government to combat infringement" once it enters into effect.

Those disclosures came from a report released today by Victoria Espinel, whom President Obama selected as the first intellectual property enforcement coordinator and was confirmed by the Senate in December 2009. There's no detail about what the proposed law would include, except that it will be based on a white paper of "legislative proposals to improve intellectual property enforcement," and it's expected to encompass online piracy.

The 92-page report (PDF) reads a lot like a report that could have been prepared by lobbyists for the recording or movie industry: it boasts the combined number of FBI and Homeland Security infringement investigations jumped by a remarkable 40 percent from 2009 to 2010.

Nowhere does the right to make fair use of copyrighted material appear to be mentioned, although in an aside on one page Espinel mentions that the administration wants to protect "legitimate uses of the Internet and... principles of free speech and fair process."

The usual copyright hawks in Congress applauded the Obama administration's report.

"I'm committed to strengthening the laws that promote investment, innovation and creativity at home," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who chairs the House subcommittee that writes copyright law. "I share the view that our criminal and IP laws need to be modernized to ensure that legitimate online commerce is not crippled by rampant piracy and counterfeiting, much of which originates overseas."

In October 2008, President Bush signed into law the so-called Pro IP ACT, which created Espinel's position and increased penalties for infringement, after his administration expressed its opposition to an earlier version.

Unless legislative proposals--like one nearly a decade ago implanting strict copy controls in digital devices--go too far, digital copyright tends not to be a particularly partisan topic. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, near-universally loathed by programmers and engineers for its anti-circumvention provisions, was approved unanimously in the U.S. Senate.

At the same time, Democratic politicians tend to be a bit more enthusiastic about the topic. No less than 78 percent of political contributions from Hollywood went to Democrats in 2008, broadly consistent with the trend for the last two years, according to OpenSecrets.org.