A Misguided Proposal to Protect IP

A proposed law would empower the federal government to seize your computer if you use it to violate a copyright law by downloading a song or movie for which you didn't pay. Doesn't that penalty seem a bit excessive?

The bill would also empower the federal government to bring civil suits for copyright infringement -- doing what the RIAA now does in its abusive lawsuits against (mostly) college students who download copyrighted music. This seems like the kind of "big government" that conservatives should deplore. If copyright holders feel infringed, they should bring their own lawsuits rather than counting on the government to do it for them. Surely our scarce federal resources are better spent elsewhere -- repairing bridges, building levees, strengthening port security, and doing the countless other things that benefit society as a whole rather than businesses that should spend their own money to protect their own intellectual property.

The bill enjoys the misguided sponsorship of Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Evan Bayh. Can't they find something more productive to do with their time?

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    they'll pull my (5.00 / 0) (#11)
    by cpinva on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 01:40:10 AM EST
    pc out of my cold, dead hands!

    I voted for Leahy... (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Karningul on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 02:10:12 AM EST
    when I lived in Vermont...and overall I have a high opinion of his work in the Senate. But wow, its been apparent for a while now that his views on IP are massively wrong.

    This is really nothing new, although its a shame someone hasn't brought him up to speed by now.

    Not adding up (5.00 / 0) (#13)
    by gyrfalcon on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 08:39:44 AM EST
    This proposed bill (and its predecessors) and the objections to it here and in the link aren't adding up for me.

    Evan Bayh, imo, doesn't have the sense God gave a rabbit, but Leahy isn't usually a big proponent of draconian nonsense, so I'm wondering what problem the bill is intended to address.  What national problem do we have because "big media" copyright holders are unable to keep up with legal action against infringers in the U.S. and the nation must therefore help them out through the federal government?

    Seems to me the most important thing this bill does is allow the government to bring civil suits on copyright infringement, and I'm also wondering why that's important.

    I think we can safely assume the target of this bill is not the college kid downloading a single 99 cent song for free, but the services that provide a way for tens of thousands of college kids to download hundreds of copyrighted songs.

    But what's the reason for authorizing the government to bring civil cases?  The linked article says it's because it's so difficult to prove criminal intent.  Has that been a big problem so far?  Have large-scale copyright infringers actually gotten off in the past because the government couldn't prove criminal intent?

    If the record industry has had trouble cleaning this up through civil suits, why should the government be able to do any better?

    Or is the thought that the civil suit and confiscation provisions together would allow the government to not only shut down one of those large-scale violators but also confiscate the computers of all its college kid customers, and the widely publicized example of one or two of those completed successfully would pretty much wipe out the whole pirate industry by scaring the bejesus out of its customers?

    Which brings me back to why the government needs to be brought into this at all.  Is it impossible for, say, the record companies to do the same thing, have the customers' computers forfeit, either under current law or some new statute?

    I don't actually have a lot of sympathy for college students or anyone else who downloads and uses other people's property for free (and I very much doubt there are many out there who've only done it once).  My objection is using scarce government resources to deal with the problem.

    Can any of you legal folks here enlighten me on what the rationale for this proposed law is?  I realize the effect is to help out the recording industry, but there's obviously a better case to be made, or at least an excuse, and I'm wondering what that could be.

    I read Sen. Bayh's statement (none / 0) (#1)
    by CaptainAmerica08 on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 04:08:27 PM EST
    on the bill. Does he always say stupid things like this? If so, I'll have to rethink my support for him for VP.

    Evan Bayh ... (none / 0) (#2)
    by Meteor Blades on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 04:23:34 PM EST
    ...received the 2004 Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson Award from JINSA, an organization whose advisors have included Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Doug Feith, Michael Ledeen and other noted neo-conservatives. Yes, he says (and does) stupid things a lot.

    I'm not impressed (none / 0) (#3)
    by andgarden on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 04:32:33 PM EST

    politicians are not your friends (none / 0) (#4)
    by sancho on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 04:53:22 PM EST

    Computers are not (none / 0) (#6)
    by BackFromOhio on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 06:27:32 PM EST
    Dems' strong suit. I recall in early 2004 trying to explain to certain Dems why HAVA and electronic voting machines were such a threat to the integrity of voting and the Dems' prospects for winning elections. I'm not sure whether they were more clueless about the potential for hanky panky or the workings of the technology, but the Dems' enthusiastic support for HAVA showed that they knew nothing about how paperless machines work or such dangers. When the Dems "discovered" that Repubs were destroying e-mails or commuicating via an RNC e-mail system and called fowl, I remember thinking, why don't they stop pouting in public and quietly go to court and get impoundment orders -- as "erased" e-mails can often be found on the hard drives.    

    So, it comes as no surprise to me that some Dems would entusiastically support such copyright legislation with its potential for all sorts of abuses, including the ability to find out extensive information, unrelated to the offense, about the individuals whose computers are taken.  

    Answer (none / 0) (#7)
    by LatinoVoter on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 06:48:47 PM EST
    A proposed law would empower the federal government to seize your computer if you use it to violate a copyright law by downloading a song or movie for which you didn't pay. Doesn't that penalty seem a bit excessive?

    No. Don't they take away guns from people who shouldn't have them? And don't they take away your license or your car if you're a repeated drunk driver? How is this any different from those instances?  

    Seems like taking away the tools that allow people to perpetuate crimes is a good idea.

    Do they take away your car... (5.00 / 0) (#8)
    by EL seattle on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 07:06:47 PM EST
    ... the first time you're caught speeding?  Say, driving 60mph in a 55mph zone.  I don't think so.

    There are degrees of violation.  Serious intentional violations may require severe penalties.  But to suggest that a maximum punishment could apply to any minor infraction is just plain silly.

    In this case, I'd expect that the ultimate power will go to the side with the deepest pockets for litigation.  As usual.


    I don't believe ... (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by TChris on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 11:25:01 PM EST
    downloading the occasional copyrighted song for private enjoyment is actually a crime.  And let's say that civil violation deprives the copyright owner of the 99 cents the copyright holder might have received by selling the song directly to the downloader.  I think taking a thousand dollar computer is a rather disproportionate penalty for failing to pay 99 cents.  I don't want to give the Justice Department the power to decide where to draw that line -- whether to seize a computer that downloads one song or a hundred or a thousand -- because I don't trust that those decisions will be made fairly.

    I Bet They (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by squeaky on Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 11:43:44 PM EST
    Are modeling the seizures on Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws

    How does Proposed Statute Work (5.00 / 0) (#14)
    by BackFromOhio on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 09:30:39 AM EST
    In other words, if passed, would it serve to allow fishing expeditions or the government to say pay us $X or turn over your computer and thereby potentially use the statute for purposes not apparent from the plain meaning?

    Exactly... (none / 0) (#19)
    by kdog on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 09:13:41 PM EST
    this is just another of their forms of extortion.

    Some racket...


    If someone doesn't DL (1.00 / 0) (#15)
    by LatinoVoter on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 10:25:10 AM EST
    items illegally then there's no way any power will be given to the Justice Department.

    As someone who pays the bills by creating things that people download for a fee or content that I package and slap ads on, it isn't just 99cents I'm being deprived of. If I'm not making money off of what I've created then I don't have money to pay my bills, provide for my family, upgrade my computer, camera, shop or dine in my area etc.

    Multiply the "occasional" song by hundreds of thousands or millions  of people and those 99 cents for the song ad up and deprive not only the creators of money but the people behind the scenes.

    I see at the bottom of the blog that TL has a copyright notice. Would TalkLeft be ok with people just copying the material from here onto other blogs? If the blog entries have custom created graphics there is usually a TL copyright on them. But I notice that sometimes graphics that are obviously not created by TL don't have a copyright or credit on them or even a creative license.

    Why is it that people who are so free and loose with the copyrights of others are never so giving of the material they create?


    To the best of my knowledge I've never DL'd any (5.00 / 0) (#16)
    by jawbone on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 12:39:05 PM EST
    copyrighted material, but I also have no idea if I have.

    I've viewed things on You Tube--never knowingly DLing any of them, iirc. But, again, I literally have no idea whether I've done something without realizing what was happening.

    Ignorance of the technology is no defense, however.

    BTW, do you feel you have been defrauded? What steps have you taken to correct that?

    I think this proposed law sucks--and it reminds me way too much of authoritarianism. Left, right, center, authoritarianism is a very bad thing.