The RIAA and the MPAA are probably wetting their collective pants in glee as Congress is set to begin preliminary hearings on a new bill called the Intellectual Property Protection Act. Introduced by Representative Lamar Smith and backed by perennial favorite Alberto Gonzales, the bill would expand the powers of the abysmal Digital Millennium Copyright Act by adding such things as:

  • Copyright infringement would earn you a prison sentence of ten years, instead of the measly five you’d get now. Repeat offenders get twenty years.
  • The FBI and other government agencies will have (surprise!) expanded wiretapping authority in their unending pursuit of the evil copyright pirates.
  • Copyright violations could be pursued as criminal cases, even if the copyright was never registered with the U.S. Copyright Office
  • Possession of anti-circumvention tools– such as software designed to decrypt DVD’s– would be a criminal act, even if the tools were never used to break copyright.
  • Attempts to commit copyright infringement– even if they never came to fruition– would be federal crimes with up to a ten-year prison sentence.
  • Provides $20 million in funding for a new FBI copyright enforcement unit.

It’s staggering to think of how far our elected representatives will go to protect the special interests of a few well-funded groups. Consider, as an example, the FBI copyright enforcement unit, which will be funded with tax dollars but will in reality be doing the work that copyright holders should be doing. If the RIAA or MPAA suspect infringement, it is their duty to prove it in court. Although I agree the FBI may need to be involved in high-profile (meaning massive) piracy operations, the government has no right to take our money and spend it on behalf of these trade groups.

As a Linux user, I occasionally use software to play DVD’s on my computer. These are legal DVD’s I’ve purchased and own, and the software is open-source and not bound by commercial licenses. But since it’s been reverse-engineered, it’s illegal– both under the DMCA and this new proposed legislation. Apparently I’m risking ten years in the Big House because I want to watch a legitimate DVD on my computer. Moreover, even if I wasn’t using the software, my mere possession of it would be a criminal act under the new law. Amazing.

Perhaps the most obnoxious part of the whole business is the endorsement from Attorney General Gonzales:

New technology is encouraging large-scale criminal enterprises to get involved in intellectual-property theft, quite frankly to fund terrorism.

Unbelievable. He really thinks terrorists are sharing pirated copies of the latest movie or song to fund their activities? Wow. But then again, I shouldn’t be the least bit surprised that Gonzales (and, in fact, the entire Bush administration) came up with the tired terrorist argument. Apparently everything in today’s world is about terrorism.

Or defending corporate interests. Whatever.