Congress Keeps Pushing Bad Copyright Bills: Senator Stabenow Wants To Expand Treasury/ICE To Go After 'Pirates'

from the it-never-ends dept

Update: Just as we published this, news came in that this amendment was rebuffed, but the point remains: Congress keeps trying to sneak in little favors to Hollywood every chance it gets.

Congress continues to show that it learned absolutely nothing from the SOPA/PIPA mess earlier this year. While we’ve been focused on the problematic IPAA bill in the House, which would create a high level IP Enforcement “deputy assistant” within the Commerce Department, over in the Senate, Debbie Stabenow is looking to create another such role in the Treasury Department. We just mentioned an effort by the Senate Finance Committee to actually make the Special 301 report useful by having it go after internet censorship… but according to Politico’s Morning Tech, Senator Stabenow has very quietly introduced an amendment to that effort, which would increase the role of the Treasury Department as Hollywood’s private police force:

A tweak by Sen. Debbie Stabenow made available last night would add to the trade bill her own measure, the Protect American Innovation Act. Among other things, the amendment would establish the position of “director of Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement” at Treasury, while boosting the ability of Customs and ICE to find and seize infringing materials entering the country or to be exported.

Stabenow actually introduced this “Protect American Innovation Act” last year, in the midst of the fight over SOPA and PIPA, and very few people noticed, since all of the attention was on those two bills. But if you look at the details, it’s just more of the same. It would increase the Treasury Department’s role in intellectual property enforcement, first by establishing a “director of intellectual property rights enforcement” withing the Treasury. That position would be tasked with working closely with ICE — and ICE would get its own new “coordinator of intellectual property enforcement.” You remember ICE. Those are the folks famous for censoring websites based on no evidence, just the RIAA’s say-so. Oh, and remember Dajaz1? That’s one of those sites that ICE erroneously censored. One of that site’s admins lives in Michigan — Stabenow’s home state. But, apparently, Stabenow would rather carry water for Hollywood than protect her own constituents from gross overreach by the US government.

Given how badly ICE screwed up that job, it’s amazing that Stabenow wants to increase their authority. But that’s what’s happening. The bill defines “piracy” as “activities related to production of or trafficking in unauthorized copies or phonorecords of works protected under title 17, United States Code, or related laws.” And we thought “piracy” was defined as “an act of criminal violence at sea.” But, notice just how broad that text is there. Any production of “unauthorized copies” of works protected under the copyright act. Yeah, if you make a copy… the Treasury Department and ICE might be able to target you.

The bill also says that Treasury/ICE/Customs should get training in new technology for “detecting and identifying, at ports of entry… pirated goods.” Given how broad this is, you could read this to mean that your phones, MP3 players and laptops may get scanned at the border for all of the music and movies you have. There was talk of such things in ACTA, but they were rejected when people spoke up — and now they’re back in a bill from Senator Debbie Stabenow who apparently slept through what happened in response to SOPA/PIPA and ACTA.

The bill also gives law enforcement within Treasury/ICE/Customs pretty broad powers, including issuing fines for importing “pirated” goods, and says that such fines “may not be mitigated” unless ordered by a court or “pursuant to regulations issued by the Commissioner.” And such fines “may not be dismissed or vacated.” In other words, if they catch you with pirated works, they may be required to issue fines. In fact, it says that the mitigation, dismissal or vacation of such fines can only happen for “extraordinary cases.” Having a few unauthorized songs on your iPhone isn’t extraordinary.

But wait… there’s more. While the IPAA, as discussed, would increase US diplomatic efforts to push for IP enforcement abroad… and so would this bill, though in a different area. Rather than IP attaches, now ICE and Customs would be tasked with spreading Hollywood-style maximalism to other countries by increasing staffing to provide training and assistance to other countries in “detecting” such “pirated goods.”

There are also a ton of small changes to copyright law, which would take quite a few hours to dig in and see what they actually do. As is typical of these kinds of bills, they don’t tell you what the bill would actually now say — they just say things like “strike from [phrase y] to [phrase x] and insert [random string of terms].” And, sometimes (including here), even these phrases then point you to other laws that you have to piece together as well. You have to sit down, pull up the original, figure out what’s being taken out, what’s being inserted and what it all means. There appear to be about a dozen such changes which we’ll have to go through later, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find more trouble in there.

For example, just a quick look at Section 143 of this bill might appear like a minor textual change. It says you have to add the following to a different bill (19 U.S.C. 1595a(c)(2)). What’s that? Oh, it’s the rules for the government forfeiting your property. And what’s the text?

‘(G) it is a technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof the importation of which is prohibited under section 1201(a)(2) of title 17, United States Code.’.

Okay piece that back into the bill above, and you see that what it’s actually doing is increasing the types of things that can be forfeited by ICE and Customs. But how so? Well, you have to jump over to section 1201(a) of Title 17, which is the anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA.

When you sit back and parse it all together, you realize that they’re now allowing ICE/Customs to forfeit any circumvention device. Considering how many “circumvention devices” you already own without realizing it, you should be concerned.

Either way, I’m sure there’s more in there, but this is just a quick read, because, again, this effort was announced yesterday for markup today. And, yes, while Stabenow released this bill last year, it got little attention because no one thought it was going anywhere. To suddenly jump the line and try to attach it to a separate, important bill, shows the same sort of attempt to sneak through laws for Hollywood without public scrutiny.

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Comments on “Congress Keeps Pushing Bad Copyright Bills: Senator Stabenow Wants To Expand Treasury/ICE To Go After 'Pirates'”

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43 Comments
Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The people here in our state like her too much in general to recall her. Even when our state turned blood red which ended up raping public education and a bunch of other big mistakes (back when they first got in) she STILL got voted in. I will be writing her a nice long email as a result of this. Once got an email from her stating that if there was anything she could do for me or my family, to let her know.

I suspect her office will simply send me back some bullshit form letter saying “we love IP!” or one of those other non answers.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

They'll have to pry my Sharpies from my cold dead hand

What in the hell does the Treasury Department have to do with copyright infringement?

Sure, if we’re talking about counterfeiting money, they’re the pros. But copying the latest movie or music releases? GTFO.

Considering how many “circumvention devices” you already own without realizing it, you should be concerned.

I just bought new pack of Sharpies, too.

SolkeshNaranek says:

Par for the course

Hollywood has an enormous pile of money.

We have an enormous pile of greedy, lazy, and clueless politicians.

It is a match made in heaven.

This type of tele-politics (politics controlled from remote via money, influence, and promises of high paying jobs) will never stop until the recording industry is dismantled and the politicians are voted out of office.

gorehound (profile) says:

Re: Par for the course

I agree and I do not want to Continue Voting for either Republicans or Democrats.I am now in my 50’s and will not Vote for either Party.I have finally come to the realization that I should of done even back in the 1970’s.
Stop Voting for who you consider to be the “lesser of two evils” .
And as far as Big Content goes You will never get a dime out of me as you are forever CENSORED from my Wallet !!@!

Jacob Blaustein says:

The title here is very misleading. You say Congress as a whole , but right now it’s only this Senator and your enemy and mine, Lamar Smith, who are trying, and by the look of things, failing I might add, trying to sneak things through. Don’t blame Congress as a whole, yes they have problems, but some of them do seem to be waking up to the problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘Congress keeps trying to sneak in little favors to Hollywood every chance it gets’

would be nice if, for a change, members of Congress ‘tried to openly introduce ‘favors’ that benefited the people’. after all, that was the main reason they were elected, wasn’t it? (cue the trolls!)
i wonder if Congress (anyone) has ever thought of the outcome if every industry had laws introduced that would benefit only those industries and was detrimental to everyone else? would anyone actually be able to do anything at any time, anywhere? maybe the best thing would be to ban everyone from doing everything, everywhere, all the time. that way, those that produce whatever they did could keep it all to themselves with no fear of it ever being ‘pirated’

Anonymous Coward says:

All Hail Stabenow!

Stabenow Wants To Expand Treasury/ICE To Go After ‘Pirates’

Er, this is what the American “voters” see as top priority, after all, isn’t it?

Thank God – the American economy is saved at last, thanks to Stabenow!

Has it occurred to any of you everyday schmucks that while America is burning the whole US tax-paid everything is fiddling for a few rich a**holes?

It’s been nice knowing you. See you in hell.

Anonymous Coward says:

Is there any new IP legislation that you don’t think is super-scary? Seriously. Is FUD all you’re good for? Methinks the pirate doth protest too much. Why pretend like “piracy is not OK” if you’re going to whine about every single thing that’s being done about it? Obviously you’re OK with piracy if you don’t think anything should be done about it. Obviously you’re OK with people’s rights getting violated if you don’t think they should ever do anything about. And obviously no one hate artists’ rights more than you. Articles like this are a dime a dozen on Techdirt, Pirate Mike. That speaks volumes about you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Just because the intent of the law is for enforcement of the copyright monopoly does not mean that’s how it will be used in fact.

See also: DMCA anti curcumvention clause that only serves to stop paying cutomers from viewing content the way they want.

Fraudulant DMCA takedowns that takedown critism while pirate sites still thrive the same as always.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The one that reduces copyright to 5 years with a possible extension of more 5 and that is it?

How about creating a compulsory licensing scheme for the internet so if 2 parties can’t agree on a price one is set by a government arbitrator based on market levels, that would apply to writen, video and audio.

Getting rid of the “derivative” part of the copyright BS laws.

Making statutory damages actually be proportional for everyone being a percentage of yearly income and not some fixed sum.

Making illegal to go for fishing expeditions.

Creating very serious liability for those who wrongly accuse or takedown anything even if by mistake.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why pretend like “piracy is not OK” if you’re going to whine about every single thing that’s being done about it?

you are wrong. There are a lot of ways to address piracy that would solicit cheers here instead of groans. They’re discussed frequently here, too.

What is not OK is the removal of our rights through legislation. All of the laws presented so far do harm to all of us (you included) and do not actually do much of anything to reduce piracy.

Even if they were effective against piracy, I’d still strongly object to them. It is hugely immoral for a business to directly harm me to solve a problem that is theirs alone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hey, aren’t you that same guy who says Mike never wants to debate you? Oh, sweet comment you made there. I seriously cannot believe Mike wouldn’t want to debate someone at your intellectual level. I mean geez! You’re just like a total debate genius. That and the amount of facts and evidence you bring into your comments. It’s astounding how much more of both there is in yours than any other peoples.

Also, isn’t it amusing how you think Mike is okay with piracy, despite the fact that he has clearly and consistently stated it is illegal and he does not condone/support/encourage it. Also, note the headline of the article, it says “I DON’T THINK ANYTHING SHOULD BE DONE ABOUT PIRACY”, it quite clearly states his opinion that bad copyright bills (meaning bills that aren’t properly thought out and cause more harm than good) aren’t the answer. Which is not the same as saying don’t do anything. It means do something, but do something smart. Then again, I can see how such a message would be lost on you. The word “smart” and you don’t go together at all.

Poor, pathetic, moronic AC. Your such a loser and a whiner that you don’t even realize how much of both you are. Not too mention a serious hypocrite. You say Mike whines, yet article after article there you are whining about Mike. Just ask him out already, we won’t judge you. You’ve either got a serious crush on him or you’re a complete idiot/loon. My money is on both. If he shoots you down will you go away?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Rather than perpetuate the obvious trolling and FUDding in this thread, I choose to take the moral high ground and offer a simple solution to this dweadful piracy problem that’s obviously resulting in the needless deaths of kittens and puppies and other small/cute defenseless creatures. And has inflicted, and continues to inflict, severe trauma upon dinosaurs and, by extension, upon young children.

As a port management guru who has bothered to analyze the text of the bill, I suggest that the bill be passed as hastily as congressionally possible, and that Treasury/ICE/Customs would do well to start by closing port 80, and perhaps port 8080 as well, as these are the infamous “gateway ports” for most pirated goods. (A guru has to know this sort of stuff.) They might also want to look into the traffic on ports 1024 through 65535 as well, as stuff often slithers its way through these as well. And don’t even get me started on ports 22, 25, 53, 139, 445, et al., which can be used to facilitate and induce the import and export of pirated goods through less conventional channels. In fact, maybe Treasury/ICE/Customs should unilaterally enforce global closure of all ports from 1 all the way through 65535, as doing so would instantly put and end to the activities of those dastardly pirate-types on a world-wide basis.

An there you have it — a simple solution to a simple problem. Have a nice day!

quawonk says:

Congress HAS learned something from SOPA/PIPA: the public is now watching them, so they have to keep it even more secretive and force this crap through as quickly as possible. Keep throwing shit and eventually some of it will stick, ie. pass.

They certainly haven’t learned that they are suppose to work for the public and not the corporations, nor do they plan to.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Congress keeps trying to sneak in little favors to Hollywood every chance it gets.”

Would you care to point out that every time your favorite grandstanding Senator gets in the way of one of these laws, that he is trying to “sneak in a little favor” for the freetards?

Come on Mike. Wise up. The US economy’s reliance on IP is only growing, and it’s incredibly naive to think that the government will not get involved to protect it’s economic interests.

Too bad you are still chewing 10 year old sour grapes instead of paying attention to where the economy is going.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“The US economy’s reliance on IP is only growing, and it’s incredibly naive to think that the government will not get involved to protect it’s economic interests.”

Could you please provide some evidence to support such a statement. We know that it is an opinion of the pro-IP crowd, but if you carve out the portion of the economy that actually relies on IP, is it really that large AND in need of protection?

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