It's alive! Hollywood darling U.S. Representative Lamar Smith is attempting to reanimate portions of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bit by bit. The Intellectual Property Attaché Act, slipped in for consideration over the weekend, revives one of the sneakier portions of SOPA to create a global intellectual property task force, charged with aggressively promoting anti-piracy law around the world.
But the problem, as TechDirt's Mike Masnick points out, is that the proposed task force seems biased towards the very overreaching anti-piracy principals that were the basis of SOPA. In other words, Congress and local governments have a habit of sidestepping important policy debates with backdoor laws that force through a particular point of view before there's general public consensus on the issue. (U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, an early opponent of SOPA, is supporting an amended version of the bill, and we've included his full, exclusive statement at the end of this post)
Open internet advocates were alarmed when Politico's morning tech roundup today noted that SOPA creator Rep. Smith was introducing a new intellectual property law for review ("markup").
The IP Attaché Act would deliberately expand the Commerce Department with a new position, originally proposed under SOPA, to police and promote anti-piracy laws around the world. Of course, blatant intellectual property violators, such as China, that permit street vendors to openly sell pirated goods are a serious threat to content providers. But, there are already global organizations, such as the World Trade Organization, to enforce and settle such grievances.
More importantly, the developed world's copyright regime is still evolving to accommodate 21st Century issues. Canada, for instance, has a new copyright law to protect user-generated content (i.e. Justin Bieber) as well as a $5,000 cap on non-commercial infringement (so no more multi-million dollar lawsuits against teenagers). Denmark has switched from warning letters to pirates to an information campaign, aimed at promoting legal music streaming services known to be associated reduced infringement.
Rep. Smith's sneaky law is just another example, like Washington DC's recent attempt at forcing Uber to charge outrageous prices, of lawmakers using backdoor laws to skirt an open public debate about important technology issues.
A spokesman for Representative Darrell Issa, an earlier opponent of SOPA, has sent TechCrunch an exclusive statement explaining why he will support the Attaché law, but expects to amend the legislation to exempt "fair use". Statement below:
"Rep. Issa is set to support the legislation, with small modifications. The Intellectual Property Attaché Act is written to help American individuals and companies that are experiencing intellectual property infringement in certain foreign countries. The legislation will place USPTO trained IP attaches in countries around the world, focusing on areas where American job creators and innovators are experiencing especially high levels of IP-theft. These attaches will work with the foreign governments to help eliminate in-country IP theft that is occurring. This is a net benefit to all Americans both IP holders and consumers. Also, the training and other programs that the attaches may provide can also help local law enforcement to deal with IP-infringement that is occurring. The cost for these attaches will come from collected PTO fees, meaning that the bill is revenue neutral. Additionally, we expect that an amendment will be made to the legislation before it is marked up that will instruct the attaches to promote clear IP exceptions like fair use already codified in U.S. Law."