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Senate bill sics DoJ on copyright infringers

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As legislation allowing the US Department of Justice to sue suspected copyright violators on behalf of the entertainment industry heads to a vote on the Senate floor, an outspoken advocacy group is calling for the public to voice their concern.

Public Knowledge, an organization also behind many of the complaints against Comcast's BitTorrent throttling, recently announced an "Action Alert" asking US voters to put the legislation on hold.

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently voted by a 14-4 margin to approve the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act of 2008. The bill introduces a wide array of measures against IP infringement, notably among them allowing the US Attorney General to bring civil action against suspected copyright infringers on behalf of private IP holders.

The legislation would also create an executive-level copyright czar to lead IP enforcement between state and federal agencies, allow criminal infringement suits to be filed before IP registration is complete, and increase IP violation penalties.

A similar bill was passed by the House last year, but doesn't grant the DoJ an ability to sue copyright infringers.

Public Knowledge objects primarily to forcing tax payers to spend money on enforcing copyrights for prolifically litigious big entertainment organizations such as the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The advocacy group notes the RIAA alone filed and threatened about 30,000 lawsuits in the last five years.

"It is quite clear that the content industry does not need any help when it comes to enforcing its rights," PK states.

The group also warns that allowing feds to sue suspected infringers in civil court (as opposed to its current restriction of criminal court for extreme circumstances significantly lowers the burden proof needed to collect damages.

The letter of law requires prosecutors to provide evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt" in order to pin alleged pirates in criminal cases. But successful civil prosecution requires only a "preponderance of evidence," meaning that if a person appears to liable (but not necessary guilty), they can be charged.

Public Knowledge spokesman Art Brodsky told El Reg the bill has no other committees in the Senate to go through. "The next step would be consideration by the full Senate, after which an agreement with the House would have to be struck. That's why we put out the Action Alert, because there is a push on to get the bill through the Senate."

Backers of the bill include the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which argues many companies don't have the resources to go after domestic and international counterfeiters.

But Public Knowledge says its concern is over copyright violations and not counterfeiters.

"That's a separate topic, although we note there has been no shortage of cases filed in that area, either," Brodsky said.

Public Knowledge asks US citizens opposing the legislation to contact those backing the bill to express their disapproval. The org provides a link to their contact information on its Action Alert page. ®

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