U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), notorious on the Web for authoring the widely despised Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), unveiled a new bill this week that seeks to further spread U.S. intellectual property regulations around the world.
Entitled the “Intellectual Property Attache Act” (IPAA), the bill would move the IP attache program, which is currently part of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), to the Commerce Department. IPAA would also expand the IP attache program by making it a full agency, as well as creating a new position, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property.
IPAA was originally a part of SOPA, under Section 205, but was sidelined along with the rest of SOPA after the contentious anti-piracy bill was all but killed following mass online protests against the legislation.
Formally established in 2006, the USPTO’s Overseas Intellectual Property Rights Attache program has one mission: “to promote high standards of IP protection and enforcement internationally for the benefit of U.S. economic and political interests abroad,” according to the official description. In other words, IP attaches are U.S. government “diplomats” who push for other countries to adopt similar intellectual property protections as those in the U.S., and make sure other countries aren’t establishing policies that allow for the infringement of U.S. copyrights. Or, as IPAA describes it, IP attaches would work “to advance the intellectual property rights of United States persons and their licensees…”
TechDirt’s Mike Masnick, a strong and outspoken opponent of U.S. intellectual property regulation, sees IPAA and the IP attache program in general as nothing more than the U.S. government forcing the will of Hollywood on the rest of the world. IP attaches, say Masnick, are effectively “Hollywood’s global police force.”
“[IP attaches] do not have the best interests of the public or the country in mind,” writes Masnick. “Their job is solely to push the copyright maximalist views of the legacy entertainment industry around the globe, and position it as the will of the U.S. government.”
Masnick also takes issue with the fact that IPAA was basically a “secret” from the public, and is being fast-tracked through the House, with the House Judiciary Committee set to hold a markup on the bill today. (At the time of this writing, the committee had not yet covered IPAA.)
So, should the average Internet user worry about IPAA? That depends on how broken you believe U.S. intellectual property protections are. If you oppose expanding the interests of U.S. copyright holders, then you should probably oppose IPAA. If, however, you are more trusting of the current system, then IPAA probably won’t rub you the wrong way. We must also add that one of the co-sponsors of IPAA is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who fiercely opposed SOPA and just this week became the first congressman to sign the Declaration of Internet Freedom, a petition that seeks to further the goal of an open Web.
Regardless, you can be sure that this is one bill we’ll be keeping our eyes on. Stay tuned.