Copyright czar bill advances

White House stealthily waters down measure backed by Hollywood

The next stop for legislation creating a U.S. copyright czar is the U.S. House floor after the bill was overwhelmingly approved Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee, albeit with some changes to satisfy the White House.

A top priority for a diverse group of industries — from the studios and record labels to auto-parts makers and pharmaceutical companies — the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act garnered only one opposing vote.

Under the bill, the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Representative would have broad power to direct and implement the federal government's policies to combat IP piracy. The USIPER would have cabinet status on par with the U.S. Trade Representative.

That positioning in the government hierarchy offended USTR Susan Schwab, who feared that it would confuse other nations when she negotiates intellectual property accords. The USTR traditionally has been the nation's point person on intellectual property issues abroad.

Although the White House has refused to say where it stands on the bill, it has conducted a stealth campaign to water it down as various departments from Justice to the USTR seek to retain hegemony on the issue. The White House is unlikely to outright oppose the legislation because the bill has the backing not only of the hardcore copyright industries but the heavy manufacturing sector and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The bill's chief author, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., changed portions of the bill to ameliorate Schwab's concerns and to ensure that other governments know that they are talking to the right person.

"Now the Chinese will know exactly who to ignore," one industry executive quipped.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., opposed the bill because one of the sections makes it easier for the government to seize property used in intellectual property crimes. One of the entertainment industry's biggest foes in Congress, she contends that the change will expose more innocent people to government copyright crime dragnets.

The bill is expected to clear the House. The Senate is expected to take action on the legislation soon after the House finishes. (partialdiff)