Saturday, September 13, 2008

Trying to Squelch a Proposed Copyright Law

All kinds of people who have good-faith reasons to think that the enterprises they are engaged in are legitimate ones, which comply with intellectual property laws, may nevertheless be chilled from beginning them.

- Peter Jaszi, co-founder of the Digital Future Coalition

In Wendy Davis, "New Law Would Authorize DOJ To Sue File-Sharers," Online Media Daily, September 11, 2008

Peter Jaszi, also a professor at the American University's Washington School of Law, is referring to a proposed new copyright law that the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to consider on September 11. Introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-PA.), the bill "would authorize the Department of Justice to bring civil lawsuits against alleged file-sharers and other copyright infringers." Clearly, the measure is designed to help recording companies and movie films who are worried about the wholesale piracy of their products that often takes place via the internet. But organizations such as Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Digital Future Coalition sent a letter to lawmakers on the judiciary committee that argued the law would confer "an enormous gift of federal resources to large copyright owners," which have already been quite busy filing lawsuits against alleged individual violators.

Rather than focus on the misuse of government resources to help private firms, Jaszi focuses on a chilling effect that might ensue if the bill becomes law. It can be hard to decide, for example, whether using a photo or clip from a copyrighted work could be considered fair use. Sometimes companies will leave borderline claims alone because of the cost involved in prosecuting them. Knowing that cost would not necessarily deter the government, says Jaszi,
may scare people from activities that are legitimately pushing the boundaries of fair use. "Being hauled into court on a civil copyright claim is scary enough, but the idea that you would be hauled into court and have to litigate against an adversary who has unlimited resources is really scary," says Jaszi.

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