New Bill Seeks To Let DHS Agents Coordinate More With Private Companies In Seizing Property (Like Domains)

from the this-again dept

The federal government seems to have a real blindness for the fact that companies given government-granted monopoly privileges in the form of trademarks, copyrights and patents might seek to abuse those rights beyond what is reasonably allowed. Instead, they seem to assume that private companies will always properly limit any efforts to use those laws against true violators. Of course, we know that’s not true, and that such monopoly holders regularly abuse the laws to block or shut down competitive activity or activity that the IP holder just doesn’t like. And yet, the government continues to ignore that this happens. Last year, the White House put forth a bunch of suggested changes to IP law, some of which showed up in SOPA.

One of the ones that didn’t show up in SOPA has now made its way into a new legislative proposal, H.R. 4216: Foreign Counterfeit Prevention Act, introduced by Reps. Ted Poe and Steve Chabot. The text of the bill seems simple enough. It changes 18 USC 1905, which currently forbids federal officials from revealing to private parties’ information that they come across during investigations. The new bill seeks to make an exception to that: allowing Homeland Security/Customs & Border Patrol agents to share pre-seizure info or products with trademark and copyright holders.

Now, on its face, this might make sense. It’s a way for CBP officials to ask copyright and trademark holders if their rights are being abused by potentially infringing products. But, as we noted when the White House first asked for this law, this hasn’t always worked out so well in the past, in part because copyright and trademark holders are often not particularly truthful when asked if they infringe — and they rarely, if ever, give any thought to fair use or other legitimate uses of their copyrights and trademarks. In fact, one of the reasons why the federal government screwed up so badly in seizing Dajaz1 was because it relied on bad claims by the RIAA, who insisted that works that were not infringing were infringing. Organizations like the RIAA have little incentive to get these things right. And this bill encourages greater coordination with those private parties?

The simple fact is that infringement is determined not by the copyright or trademark holder, but through a court process and adversarial hearing. Having Homeland Security sharing more info with private companies seems like a situation that is ripe for abuse. We’ve already seen how Homeland Security sometimes appears to act as the the private police force of certain private companies. Are we sure that we really want to create a situation that encourages more such activities?

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Comments on “New Bill Seeks To Let DHS Agents Coordinate More With Private Companies In Seizing Property (Like Domains)”

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Anonymous Coward says:

There is a simple way to make this work...

Add the restrictions that 1. it has to be presented for the soul purpose of determining whether or not infringement has occurred, 2 in a court that makes the determination (like a Grand Jury) if there is infringement or not where 3. the IP holder testifies under penalty of perjury. That should do it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 There is a simple way to make this work...

Big (U.S.) corporations usually get the high court treatment and they often benefit from limited liability … when is the last time you’ve seen corporate executives jailed for doing something illegal (the Enron scandal?).

ie: Look at the AT&T scam among many many other scams and illegal activity committed by corporations where no one gets sentenced to anything.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

At some point, other than a troll, could someone please explain to me how a counterfeit handbag or suit have a thing to do with national security? Or for that matter a flood of cheap illegal DVDs or CDs of Hollywood products have anything to do with national security?

Counterfeit money, sure, that does. But the United States already has the secret service for that. Fake aircraft parts for the military does but one would rationally think the military has the where with all to check that themselves and call in the necessary civilian law enforcement agencies if needs must.

Perhaps a cracking (I will NOT misuse the word hacking the way a lot of others do any longer!) of government computer networks would qualify but most of that seems self inflicted rather than a deliberate act of an outside party to date. But there ARE agencies that predate the DHS that already do that and have for decades. Just ask the FBI! On second thought, maybe not.

As there’s no penalty for the *AA’s to be honest about infringement or to check before complaining having a DHS act for them is nothing short of ridiculous. And I still want to know what it has to do with security. Not a thing that I can see.

Prozpleez says:

Watch the gap

This is a necessary step in the international effort to protect IP. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected we need to ensure that new channels for copyright infringement are not opened and created. Let’s work to protect IP and come up with all encompassing legislation, formed by the input of all parties involved, to address this issue.

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