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Tech by VICE

Washington Needs to Rethink How it Pushes These Copyright Laws

Lamar Smith just can't do anything right. The Texas congressman and widely despised author of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) ruffled the Internet's feathers once again this week with the quiet unveiling of a new piece of legislation that's drawing...

by Adam Estes
Jul 12 2012, 5:07pm

Lamar Smith just can’t do anything right. The Texas congressman and widely despised author of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) ruffled the Internet’s feathers once again this week with the quiet unveiling of a new piece of legislation that’s drawing criticism for being plucked out of SOPA’s language and rushed through Congress. The Intellectual Property Attaché Act (IPAA) would streamline the process by which the U.S. protects its intellectual property by enforcing U.S. copyright law abroad through specially assigned diplomats or attachés. These officers would report to a new agency-level position, the Assistant Secretary for Intellectual Property and push agendas that, according to the bill’s language, are “consistent with the economic interests of the United States, both domestically and abroad.”

Anti-SOPA types can’t believe this is happening. Not only does the IPAA continue to push SOPA’s aggressive pro-copyright approach but, once again, Smith is skipping key steps that allow the public to review the bill in an effort to push it through the House. Smith shared a draft of the bill on Saturday and scheduled a markup in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, just 24 hours after news of the bill’s existence was leaked to the press. Though the committee didn’t get to it. This quick-to-the-draw approach is pretty similar to how Smith tried to move SOPA to the floor. As such, members of the committee shouldn’t be surprised that there was pushback, says Ernesto Falcon at Public Knowledge: “If the House Judiciary Committee wants to shake off the ghost of SOPA and avoid having legislation blow up in their collective faces, they need to rethink how they move intellectual property bills.”

All that said, IPAA doesn’t have a ton in common with SOPA. Yes, the bill’s provisions were once a part of the failed legislation from last winter but largely represent a shuffling of bureaucratic responsibility rather than a new approach to enforcing copyright law. Unlike SOPA, IPAA would not require internet service providers to block websites accused of copyright infringement and wouldn’t force sites like PayPal to stop doing business with these sites. In fact, the attaché program already exists under the supervision of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; this bill would simply expand it into its own agency. But ultimately, it is another bill that devotes more government resources to police the world on Hollywood’s behalf.

For now, there’s not a lot to worry about. IPAA is stalled as Judiciary Committee members work on amendments, including one that would define and allow for fair use. So it seems that critics of the process have gotten the time for public debate that they asked for. Meanwhile, no websites are getting shut down, and Justin Bieber is safe from jail time. Nevertheless, Lamar Smith is still a villain.

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