The U.S. senators floated a bill Thursday boosting copyright and trademark protection, legislation that would allow the attorney general to prosecute civil cases of infringement and one that allows for the forfeiture of hardware used to infringe.
The measure, much of which mirrors a similar bill the House passed last year, doubles penalties and the statutory damages in trademark counterfeiting cases to a range of $1,000 to $200,000 for use of a counterfeit mark, and to $2,000,000 for willful use of a counterfeit mark.
Most important, the measure, like the House version, creates an executive-level Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, which would require Senate confirmation. The executive and its office would be charged with creating a nationwide plan to combat piracy and "report directly to the president and Congress regarding domestic international intellectual property enforcement programs."
The bill (.pdf) encourages federal-state anti-piracy task forces, the training of other countries about IP enforcement and, among other things, institutes an FBI piracy unit.
A host of intellectual property rights groups applauded the bill. Public Knowledge, a non-profit digital rights group, said it went too far.
"This bill would turn the Justice Department into an arm of the legal departments of the entertainment companies by authorizing DOJ to file civil lawsuits for infringement, forcing taxpayers to foot the bill," said Gigi Sohn, President of Public Knowledge.
The music and motion picture industries have sued thousands of individuals for copyright infringement. It's too early to say how the measure, if approved by Congress, would work in practice.
"Better coordination and stronger enforcement of intellectual property laws at home and abroad will have a positive impact not only on the music industry, but on the overall US economy, encouraging growth, job creation and trade," said David Israelite, CEO of the National Music Publishers' Association.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, was among the main backers of the bill. He said the legislation -- which also allows for the confiscation of property "derived from any proceeds" gained from infringement -- was necessary.
"The time has come to bolster the Federal effort to protect this most valuable and vulnerable property, to give law enforcement the resources and the tools it needs to combat piracy and counterfeiting, and to make sure that the many agencies that deal with intellectual property enforcement have the opportunity and the incentive to talk with each other, to coordinate their efforts, and to achieve the maximum effects for their efforts. This bill does just that," he said.
The bill also has a global reach. It charges the new Copyright Czar to "identify and give priority to those countries where programs of training and technical assistance can be carried out most effectively and with the greatest benefit to reducing counterfeit and pirated products in the United States market."
Comment: And the power of the National Government grows...