In past posts, I have noted that the problem of intellectual property theft on the internet was likely to become a problem for consumers as those who are impacted by it look to implement more draconian measures.

And so it appears that consumers in the United States may reap what they sow much sooner than they anticipated.

A few weeks ago, both the US Senate and US House of Representatives passed a RIAA-backed bill that seeks to clamp down on intellectual property theft.

The measures in the “Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008” include:

  • The creation of a White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator to oversee and coordinate the fight against intellectual property theft.
  • Increased civil and criminal penalties for intellectual property infringements.

Although the bill lacks a controversial proposed measure that would have enabled the government to file civil lawsuits against peer-to-peer filesharers who share copyrighted materials on behalf of the owners of the infringed materials, opponents of the bill still aren’t too happy.

Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge claims that “the bill only adds more imbalance to a copyright law that favors large media companies.

While I think it’s unfortunate that the issue of intellectual property theft has been pushed to the point where legislators are being involved, I also think individuals like Sohn are misguided.

She stated:

“At a time when the entire digital world is going to less restrictive distribution models, and when the courts are aghast at the outlandish damages being inflicted on consumers in copyright cases, this bill goes entirely in the wrong direction.”

“Instead of being focused on giving large media companies what they want, Congress instead should take a comprehensive look at the current state of the law, and of technology and write legislation that recognizes the reality of the situation and the reality that consumers have rights also.”

As it relates to copyright, Sohn and other copyright infringement apologists ignore the fact that The Copyright Act grants certain rights to copyright holders, including the rights of reproduction and distribution.

I’m not sure which “less restrictive distribution models” Sohn refers to outside of outright theft, but distribution models themselves are the purview of intellectual property owners, not consumers.

Consumers have absolutely no right to dictate to a record label, for instance, how it should distribute its music. Consumers do have the right to vote with their wallets, however, and can encourage record labels to implement more attractive distribution models by not purchasing their music – not by stealing their music.

At the end of the day, it remains to be seen what impact the new bill will have on piracy. Obviously, intellectual property infringement isn’t going to be eliminated entirely by the rule of law and intellectual property owners are still fighting an uphill battle – one that needs to be fought practically.

Yet the trend is clear – lawmakers are increasingly being asked to bulk up the powers of enforcement and by in large, they’re obliging. This isn’t good for consumers who would be better off fighting for what they want in a manner that doesn’t lead to increased government “intervention.”