Obama administration eyes executive action to combat online piracy

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 14:56 EDT
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President Barack Obama addresses a crowd. Photo: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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The Obama administration is soliciting recommendations for internal policy changes, or possibly even an executive order, that would be aimed at combating online piracy in the U.S. and abroad, Raw Story has learned.

After the failure of the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) earlier this year, congressional efforts to reform intellectual property laws have remained largely stalled. However, the administration still holds some power in this realm. A little-noticed solicitation for public comment published Tuesday in the federal register (PDF, see pages 99-101) seems to indicate that, like recent changes to immigration enforcement priorities, President Barack Obama may just go it alone on increasing IP enforcement measures.

In particular, the Executive Office of the President wants to know if the public has any recommendations for copyright reforms via “legislation, regulation, guidance, executive order, Presidential memoranda, or other executive action including, but not limited to, changes to agency policies, practices or methods.” Put bluntly, this means the Obama administration will consider pitches for unilateral executive action on copyright enforcement reforms, among other possible course of action.

While the solicitation does not directly propose any specific action, it sets out objectives for the Office of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) as approved by Congress in the PRO IP Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008.

The PRO IP Act established an executive-level “copyright czar,” created a new division within the Department of Justice dedicated exclusively to tracking down intellectual property offenders and raised the penalties for copyright offenders. It was strongly supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The IPEC states that its objectives include: setting up a new international regulatory framework to combat online piracy; helping facilitate law enforcement information sharing between agencies and countries; reducing the number of countries that ignore or fail to enforce U.S. copyright laws; disrupting networks in the U.S. and abroad seen as dedicated to copyright infringement; and providing assistance and training to countries willing to enforce U.S. intellectual property laws.

The copyright czar’s solicitation reads like is directed specifically at the big content industries, and notes that they welcome “submission on the economic costs of enforcing intellectual property rights.” It also asks several very pointed questions that only industry bigwigs would be equipped to answer, such as:

1. How can international regulatory and law enforcement collaboration and information sharing be enhanced to address cross-border intellectual
property infringement?

2. What legal or operational changes might be made, or collaborative steps undertaken between federal agencies and the private sector, to streamline or improve the efficacy of enforcement efforts directed at protecting intellectual property rights?

Many of those same goals were shared by copyright enforcement legislation that failed earlier this year after the Internet’s largest-ever work stoppage protest clogged the congressional switchboard with angry calls from lawmakers’ constituents. (Disclosure: The Raw Story’s management participated in that protest.) Nearing the end of that debate, President Obama’s aides announced that he was opposed provisions in those bills that critics said could lead to Internet censorship.

The solicitation directs interested parties to send recommendations via Regulations.gov. The window for public comment is set to close on July 25.

The IPEC did not respond to Raw Story’s request for comment.

Photo: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

(H/T: Cryptome)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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