PIPA and SOPA by Dribs and Drabs

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The IP Attaché Act now has company in the dubious club of former bits of SOPA/PIPA being floated in Congress. This week, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) offered and then withdrew an amendment to add another raft of copyright enforcement proposals to a trade bill.

The amendment she offered was essentially a version of her "Protect American Innovation Act," introduced last November. It contains a lot of the same provisions we keep seeing in one form or another in various bills that continually try and insert new bits of the content lobby's agenda into U.S. law.

In particular, it seeds more IP enforcement officials throughout the government (including creating a new Director of IP Rights Enforcement at the Treasury Department). It also would give Customs officials the power to seize goods that they think are used to break DRM. It also would give customs officials the power to seize goods that are merely being shipped through the U.S. (not into or out of it), and increasing penalties for those whose goods are seized.

We already have a federal government riddled through with dedicated IP enforcement directors, officers, and other personnel in widely disparate agencies. There's a constant controversy over what is and isn't legal regarding DRM, and the seizure provisions for copyright have already been used by Customs in embarrassingly ham-fisted and unjustified ways. Despite this, provisions like these are still kicking around in committees and various proposals, waiting to be marked up and voted on.

While Stabenow likely wasn't trying to get this bill passed as an amendment to the actual bill being marked up, she introduced and then withdrew the language as an amendment as a way to promote the standalone bill. Since the senator is facing a serious re-election fight this year, she might well want to tout her tough-on-piracy credentials to potential campaign donors.

Still, it's ironic that the Senator comes from a state plagued with controversy regarding taxpayer subsidization of Hollywood studios. In 2011, Michigan’s state government was spending more than $100 million in tax money to subsidize the production costs of making movies at a time when the state’s budget deficit exceeded $719 million. So while social services and valuable programs faced the chopping block, each Michigan taxpayer spent $4.26 on creating the movie “Real Steel.” As the deficit grew, the state began reducing its subsidy program, but it still currently stands at $50 million a year.

While Congress is still being cautious about copyright legislation for the time being, there's an even longer history of quietly passing such bills without much opposition. As soon as the reverberations from the PIPA and SOPA protests die away, those proposals will come right back—likely piecemeal. So the importance of keeping Internet users engaged and informed only increases as PIPA and SOPA fall farther into the past.

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