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Rep. Berman: Pro-IP bill will become law in 2008

Major rewrite of U.S. copyright law is on track to be signed by President Bush by the end of the year, the congressman representing the Hollywood, Calif. area says

Rep. Howard Berman, the Democrat who represents the area near Hollywood, Calif., slams 'people who want to steal intellectual property' and their 'lobby.' Declan McCullagh/CNET

HOLLYWOOD, Calif.--Rep. Howard Berman, who heads a congressional panel in charge of writing copyright legislation, lashed out at Internet pirates this week and defended his effort to add stiffer anticopying penalties to federal law.

Berman, a Democrat who represents the congressional district near Hollywood, said at a technology policy conference here that he was on track to enact the so-called Pro-IP Act by the end of 2008. The bill ratchets up civil penalties for copyright infringement and creates a new federal agency charged with bringing about a national and international copyright crackdown.

"I don't think there's a lot of controversy," Berman said on Wednesday. "This one is not like the patent bill."

Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge have opposed the Pro-IP Act, saying it makes little sense to seize a family computer allegedly used to download music on a peer-to-peer network and that the legislation amounts to protecting the entertainment industry's business model at the expense of technology.

"There are people who want to steal intellectual property," Berman said in an apparent criticism of EFF and Public Knowledge. "Their lobby is distributed, diffuse, but unfortunately very popular."

Berman dismissed the Justice Department's criticism of Pro-IP--the agency believes the current arrangement for criminal enforcement works fine--as merely protecting political turf. "They don't like Congress telling them how to organize their branch, but that's our right," Berman said. "They take the notion of executive privilege very seriously."

He also:

* Defended the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has been the subject of protests from technologists for nearly a decade: "I know the DMCA is controversial--by and large I think it makes a lot of sense."

* Wondered whether Internet service providers should be required to pull the plug on customers engaged in piratical activities: "To what extent do we ask ISPs to (undertake) some affirmative actions?" The Motion Picture Association of America has called on ISPs to do precisely that, without saying it should be mandated by law; its international counterparts have not been as reticent.

* Joked that as the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (after Rep. Tom Lantos' death), he'd support using military force against countries that are piracy havens. Berman didn't say who would be the next chairman of the House copyright subcommittee and refused to speculate on whether Rick Boucher or Jerry Nadler would get the spot.