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Public Knowledge Fights Bill Giving Feds Civil Enforcement Power
September 17, 2008
Thomas Mennecke
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If you didn't know who Public Knowledge was prior to the Comcast fiasco, chances are you do now. Public Knowledge is public advocacy group that, along with Free Press, filed a complaint against Comcast for their BitTorrent throttling practices. The latest fight is against the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Act of 2008, which among other things, gives the Attorney General of the United States the power to bring civil action against suspected copyright infringers.

At first glance, this may seem like a non-issue. Remember the leaders of EliteTorrents? Once the administrator of this site uploaded Star Wars in 2005, the US Government charged him with conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. But criminal law can only go so far in copyright cases. Typically, such criminal charges can only be brought forth under the most extreme circumstances, such as uploading Star Wars 6 hours prior to its theatrical release.

Wouldn't it be great for the entertainment industry if a much lesser standard was available to the Department of Justice, such as civil charges? Civil charges are great because the standard upon which liability is found is considerably less than a criminal case. If you remember from your criminal justice class in high school, in a criminal case a defendant has to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, there only has to be a preponderance of evidence. In other words, if it looks like you could be liable (as opposed to guilty), hey, why not pin the blame on you?

The problem with all this, as Public Knowledge sees it, is that the MPAA and RIAA could hand over the enforcement responsibilities, or at least a portion of them, to the federal government. The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Act, which is a series of amendments to existing laws, gives the US Attorney General the power to bring civil copyright violation charges against suspected pirates. From the bill:

"In lieu of a criminal action under section 506, the Attorney General may commence a civil action in the appropriate United States district court against any person who engages in conduct constituting an offense under section 506. Upon proof of such conduct by a preponderance of the evidence, such person shall be subject to a civil penalty under section 504 which shall be in an amount equal to the amount which would be awarded under section 3663(a)(1)(B) of title 18 and restitution to the copyright owner aggrieved by the conduct."

Public Knowledge has issued an "Action Alert" in response to the bill passing the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. All is not lost simply because it passed the Judiciary Committee, as the bill still has a long and arduous road ahead. However, and Public Knowledge is looking to strike while the iron’s hot.

"Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave the green light to S. 3325, the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Act of 2008. We need you to show them the red light, NOW! This intellectual property enforcement bill lets the DOJ enforce civil copyright claims and lets the government do the MPAA and RIAA’s copyright enforcement work for them—at the taxpayers’ expense."

To date, the entertainment industry has pursued over 25,000 monetary demands from suspected P2P butt pirates. It's a bit of a stretch to believe the federal government can match that volume, but it wouldn't be so much of a stretch to believe that the Attorney General's office could supplement such actions. Additionally, the entertainment industry has toned down its pursuit compared to the FastTrack days. With fewer, more targeted enforcements, many file-sharers will hope Public Knowledge can replicate the success that it had against Comcast.


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Technology News :: Organizations/Initiatives

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