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As previously mentioned in last week’s post, the days of George W. Bush’s presidency may be dwindling, but that hasn’t stopped him from using his last months in office to strengthen federal protection for entertainment industries with the creation of a “Copyright Czar“. Despite strong objections from the Department of Justice, President Bush signed the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act (PRO-IP Act) on Monday, October 13. In addition to calling for a new executive office to oversee intellectual property issues, the Act will dramatically stiffen penalties for music and movie piracy at the federal level.

The Act was widely hailed by the business community, receiving support from the Recording Industry of America (RIAA), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the AFL-CIO.

The Chairman and CEO of the RIAA, Mitch Bainwol, hailed the new bill as “music to the ears of all those who care about strengthening American creativity and jobs.”

Tom Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, “By becoming law, the Pro-IP Act sends the message to IP criminals everywhere that the U.S. will go the extra mile to protect American innovation.” The Chamber values the intellectual property industry at around $5 trillion dollars and notes that it accounts for around half of the United States’ exports each year. The Chamber also said that piracy and counterfeiting costs the United States around $250 billion dollars each year.

However, not everyone is thrilled with the strengthening of the federal government’s power in the area of intellectual property. The Justice Department initially opposed the creation of the executive office, worrying that it would undermine the DOJ’s ability to pursue copyright infringers and pirates. Public Knowledge, a Washington D.C.-based public interest group “working to defend your rights in the emerging digital culture”, opposed the Act’s passage because it failed to address “orphan works“, works for which no copyright owner could be found.

Other organizations opposed to the legislation included the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Library Association. Opponents say the Act does nothing but strengthen protection for corporations, dampen creativity and place further limits on the concept of fair use.

The real question is this: with lawsuits being successfully brought against pirates and infringers and sites like YouTube frequently complying with requests to remove infringing materials (like home videos of babies dancing to Prince songs), was this extra protection really necessary?

Emily Creditt

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