I know I cancelled the rest of March, but this has made me crazier than usual, and I must rant.

S. 2237 (aka The PIRATE Act) is being introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy and Orrin Hatch and it strikes me as some pretty idiotic industry-ass-kissing.

From Senator Leahy’s press release:

Leahy-Hatch Bill Takes Aim At Copyright Infringement

ÖProposal Allows DOJ Filing Of Civil Actions In IP Piracy Cases

[WASHINGTON (Thursday, March 25) — Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) Thursday introduced a bill that would expand the Department of Justiceís (DOJ) arsenal in protecting the creative work of artists, authors and others against copyright infringement. The Protecting Intellectual Rights Against Theft and Expropriation Act (PIRATE Act) would extend DOJís current authority to permit its filing of civil copyright infringement cases. Under current law, the Attorney General can only bring criminal copyright cases, which can be difficult to prosecute because, among other factors, they require a high standard of proof. The Leahy-Hatch bill would allow the Attorney General to file civil claims that could include damages and restitution without criminal penalties.

[The text of Leahyís statement introducing the bill is on the page with the press release]

If you’d like to read the actual text Leahy and Hatch have presented, it’s available here.

Incidentally, Leahy and Hatch received tasty wads of cash (Leahy: $175,000 and Hatch: $152,000) from the music and entertainment industries this year, according to Open Secrets.

Commercial, and legally licensed, services such as eMusic, Rhapsody, iTunes and Napster are in their infancy. There are legal uses of P2P software, not everyone who uses them is a criminal and stifling innovation benefits no one. Does it make sense for the Federal government to step in with action that holds only the file-sharers accountable? And why on god’s green earth are we taking the financial and monetary burden of prosecuting copyright infringers off the RIAA and placing it squarely on the heads of tax-payers?

Isn’t the rhetoric Hatch is using to promote this legislation a bit over the top? I’m providing a sizeable chunk of his remarks because I believe it’s critical for consumers to consider how the government and the entertainment industry are framing the debate around the development of new technologies in the most extreme ways possible:

Only recently has America faced the specter of widespread copyright-enforcement actions against individual users of copyrighted works. For nearly 200 years, copyright enforcement was rarely directed against the millions of ordinary American citizens who use and enjoy copyrighted works. Instead, creators and distributors of copyrighted content worked together to negotiate the complex licensing agreements and technological protections needed to distribute copyrighted works in ways that accommodated both the expectations of users and the copyrights of artists.

But recently, some unscrupulous corporations may have exploited new technologies and discovered that the narrow scope of civil contributory liability for copyright infringement can be utilized so that ordinary consumers and children become, in effect, ìhuman shieldsî against copyright owners and law enforcement agencies. Unscrupulous corporations could distribute to children and students a ìpiracy machineî designed to tempt them to engage in copyright piracy or pornography distribution.

Unfortunately, piracy and pornography could then become the cornerstones of a ìbusiness model.î At first, children and students would be tempted to infringe copyrights or redistribute pornography. Their illicit activities then generate huge advertising revenues for the architects of piracy. Those children and students then become ìhuman shieldsî against enforcement efforts that would disrupt the flow of those revenues. Later, large user-bases and the threat of more piracy would become levers to force American artists to enter licensing agreements in which they pay the architects of piracy to distribute and protect their works on the Internet.

Federal enforcement action is surely warranted if such ìbusiness modelsî are driving the increasing ease of piracy on peer-to-peer filesharing networks. Such business models exploit children, cheat artists, and threaten the future development of commerce on the Internet.

Human shields? Does the Senator’s office even know what a human shield actually is? (To sum up, a civilian used voluntarily or involuntarily to attempt to protect a target from military action. Human shields are considered war crimes, and it seems to be in rather bad taste to liken them to alleged civil copyright infringers).

To further muddy the waters, Hatch was a pretty well-known Napster ally – see the webcast of the 2001 future of music coalition policy summit (currently experiencing technical difficulties) for more details. Now he seems perfectly content to stretch our deficit-ridden coffers even farther than seems possible in order to placate the music industry.
This isn’t an election year or anything, is it?

I’ve heard rumors that there will be open hearings about this issue soon. I’m really hoping to be well enough to attend. For now, however, I’m going back to bed.

[update]I should have just caught up on my Wired reading first: Xeni covers this issue much better than I do, although I feel smug about digging up the same stats ;-)

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