In what could be another blow for companies like RealNetworks and even consumers and integrators involved with digital media, President George W. Bush this past Monday signed into law a bill designed to increase protection of intellectual property (IP) such as software, films, and music by raising penalties for infringement and creating a national “IP czar.” The Business Software Alliance, Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America all supported the bill.
The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2007, or PRO-IP Act, creates a high-ranking IP protection overseer, appointed by the Senate and reporting directly to the president. The position’s first appointee will likely come from the next U.S. administration. The U.S. Department of Justice will also form a new division dedicated to enforcing intellectual property protection.
Some public advocacy groups had opposed the bill, stating that its penalties were far too harsh and that it didn’t balance users’ rights and concerns over those of major software, media, and pharmaceutical companies. “The bill only adds more imbalance to a copyright law that favors large media companies. At a time when the entire digital world is going to less restrictive distribution models, and when the courts are aghast at the outlandish damages being inflicted on consumers in copyright cases, this bill goes entirely in the wrong direction,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based digital rights group, after the passage of the Senate version of PRO-IP in late September.
Even the DOJ came out against certain early provisions in the bill that were later struck, namely that they “could result in Department of Justice prosecutors serving as pro bono lawyers for private copyright holders regardless of their resources.”
However, American businesses and their advocates were overwhelmingly in favor of PRO-IP. U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Tom Donohue had called upon Bush to sign PRO-IP. “Mr. President, you will be doing a great service for the nation’s innovators, workers, and consumers by signing this legislation into law,” said in a speech made last week in Washington, D.C.
Although major industry copyright protection groups like the Business Software Alliance, Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America did not comment immediately on the president’s signing the bill into law, the latter two were major supporters of the bill from its introduction last year through its passage in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
“This bill truly is music to the ears of all those who care about strengthening American creativity and jobs. At a critical economic juncture, this bipartisan legislation provides enhanced protection for an important asset that helps lead our global competitiveness,” Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the RIAA said in a statement following PRO-IP’s passage in the Senate.