WASHINGTON -- The American Conservative Union (ACU) accused Hollywood of attempting to "shanghai" public policy for its own agenda as it urged Congress to reject a package of proposed new intellectual property laws.
Stacie Rumenap, deputy director of the million-member ACU, joined officials from the electronics industry and public interest groups Friday to denounce an omnibus bill that combines eight different pieces of legislation that deal with copyright laws and technology.
The bills will be on the agenda during the final legislative session of the 108th Congress, which returns to Washington Tuesday.
Most offensive of the bills, said the ACU's Rumenap, is the Pirate Act (S. 2237), which would authorize the Department of Justice (DOJ) to file civil actions against copyright infringers, i.e., peer-to-peer (P2P) file swappers. The DOJ currently has the authority to pursue only criminal prosecutions against infringers, leaving civil actions to the private sector.
"We find it is just plain wrong to make the Department of Justice Hollywood's law firm," Rumenap said at a policy briefing in the offices of Public Knowledge, a public interest advocacy group.
The ACU, the Consumer Electronics Association, Public Knowledge, Verizon and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) want the lame duck Congress to skip any votes on the omnibus bill and leave intellectual property legislation to the 109th Congress, which convenes in January.
To help persuade Congress, particularly Republicans, to delay any votes on the legislation, Rumenap said the ACU would launch an advertising campaign next week aimed at lawmakers.
"The Pirate Act is another masquerade by Hollywood to make taxpayers foot the bill for its misguided war on promising new technology," Rumenap said. "Right now, Hollywood is trying to ram this flawed bill -- a handout for Tinsel Town fat cats -- through Congress without hearings or debate."
Since the 108th Congress was gaveled into session in January of 2003, the music and movie industries have aggressively lobbied lawmakers to do something about rampant piracy on P2P networks. While they lobbied, they also filed thousands of civil actions against alleged P2P music pirates.
At one point, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation that would have held makers of music players like Apple's iPod liable for inducing copyright violations. The legislation, called the Induce Act, was eventually left out of the omnibus package. No so the Pirate Act, however.
"The Pirate Act isn't just ill-conceived, it's bad public policy. It needlessly and harmfully expands the role of government," Rumenap said. "[Under this bill] Who pays the legal bills for Hollywood? The American taxpayers. And as a bonus, Hollywood companies get to collect the fines."
Will Rodger of the CCIA said his group also opposes the Pirate Act. He said the bill would "transfer to the Justice Department the job of suing suspected copyright infringers in civil court. The DOJ, in effect, would become Hollywood's government-funded law firm when there is not enough evidence to bring a criminal case against an alleged infringer."
Neither the Recording Industry Association of America nor the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the two principal trade groups of the music and movie industries, returned calls for comment.
However, MPAA President and CEO Dan Glickman told the National Press Club earlier this week that new technological forces in the economy hold the potential to bring about a new "Golden Age" for Hollywood. But he also warned: "These same forces threaten to unleash a wave of intellectual piracy that will undo the very foundations of moviemaking."
Glickman said Hollywood would rather "produce courtroom dramas than star in them," but last week the MPAA said it plans to begin filing copyright theft lawsuits Nov. 16 against users of P2P networks who illegally trade movies over the file-swapping networks.
According to the MPAA, the civil suits will seek damages and injunctive relief. Under the Copyright Act, statutory damages reach up to $30,000 for each separate motion picture illegally copied or distributed over the Internet and as much as $150,000 per picture if the infringement is proven to be willful.
The MPAA said the average number of infringing movie titles traded daily in the United States through P2P networks ranges from 115,000 to 148,000 downloads. The film industry's data says the average downloaded film is 1.35 gigabytes and takes 12 to 18 hours to download. Newer technology, the MPAA claims, can reduce that time to three to six hours.
By contrast, the average music file is three megabytes and can be downloaded from P2P networks in a matter of seconds, given the speed of one's Internet connection. Since September 2003, the music industry has been aggressively suing song file-swappers, filing more than 5,000 legal actions.