Pro-copyright lobbyists storm Capitol Hill

RIAA, MPAA and others congregate for an "expo" to spread the word about safeguarding intellectual property, attracting a few celebrities in their midst.

WASHINGTON--Prominent champions of tougher copyright enforcement from the entertainment, media and publishing industries took over a stately Capitol Hill caucus room on Thursday, staging an expo aimed at playing up the legal protections' importance to their livelihood.

Anne Broache/CNET

The event was put on by the Copyright Alliance, which formed earlier this year to promote the "vital role" of copyright in the U.S. economy and job market, encourage inclusion of copyright protection requirements in trade agreements, urge tougher civil and criminal penalties for piracy, and dissuade any weakening of copyright law. Its 42 members include heavy hitters like the Recording Industry Association of America, the Association of American Publishers, the Motion Picture Association of America, Microsoft, Viacom, NBC Universal and Walt Disney.

Most of the major players had booths at Thursday's shindig, and some of their messages were hardly subtle.

The RIAA hung wrinkled T-shirts that read in bold print: "feed a musician, download legally."

The RIAA's wearable campaign Anne Broache/CNET

The Entertainment Software Association, which represents video game and console makers, had a Nintendo Wii on hand for passers-by to test and decorated its booth with a huge poster that screamed in menacing capital letters: "Game Over Pirates Game Over."

The ESA's booth Anne Broache/CNET
Chuck Brown (left), Isaac Hayes and David Porter sign autographs for a Capitol policeman. Anne Broache/CNET

Aside from the small crowd gathered around the ESA's Wii at any given time, the most popular set-up belonged to Broadcast Music Inc., better known as BMI, which collects performance license fees on behalf of more than 350,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers. On hand to sign autographs and chat with fans who stopped by were Chuck Brown, known as the "Godfather of GoGo" (a Washington D.C. breed of funk music, for those not in the know); Isaac Hayes, the famed soul singer who wrote the score for Shaft and, until last year, supplied the voice of South Park's Chef; and David Porter, a soul musician and Hayes' songwriting partner.

And of course, the two-hour event wouldn't have been complete without an appearance from a politico. (It was a bit surprising that more politicians didn't make the rounds, but, in fairness, that may have been because the House of Representatives wasn't in session Thursday because of Rep. Jo Ann Davis' funeral, and the Senate has been on recess all week.)

Rep. John Conyers Anne Broache/CNET

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which handles copyright law, showed up briefly to pat the organizers on the back. "When you walk into this room, a copyright becomes real," he said.

He also spoke vaguely about a bill his office is putting together over the next few weeks to "bring together" the nine federal agencies that currently handle intellectual property enforcement in some manner. (Update 2:35 p.m. PDT: His office wasn't able to provide more details this afternoon.)

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the pro-Hollywood chairman of a House intellectual property panel, had also been scheduled to speak but was a no-show.

The Bush administration's coordinator for international intellectual property, Chris Israel, made a brief appearance as well. (He's the one who declared U.S. copyright law is a-OK after a $222,000 damage award and guilty verdict transpired in the now-infamous case involving a Minnesota resident and the recording industry.) He told expo attendees his office has witnessed a "tremendous increase" in federal intellectual property enforcement over the past few years and predicted that trend will only continue.

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