New US law strengthens intellectual property enforcement regime

A new law has been created in the US which toughens penalties for infringements of intellectual property law. The law will also create an intellectual property (IP) enforcement co-ordinator.

The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (Pro-IP) Act has already been passed by both houses of Congress and was signed into law this week by US president George Bush.

The office of the President had resisted the passing of the law and had objected to provisions in it which would have allowed the Department of Justice (DoJ) to pursue civil cases against alleged IP rights infringers.

That part of the law would have involved public prosecutors taking civil actions and then handing any damages over to the private owners of the IP. "Civil copyright enforcement has always been the responsibility and prerogative of private copyright holders, and US law already provides them with effective legal tools to protect their rights," a letter from the White House to senators said. That part of the law was dropped before the Act was presented to the White House.

The new law will give the DoJ and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) greater resources to tackle IP infringement and increases the penalties available to those found to have infringed others' rights.

The IP enforcement co-ordinator will be a Presidential appointee and will be a part of the White House administration. That person will co-ordinate inter-agency action on IP infringement, though the person will be barred from being in charge of law enforcement staff.

The new law allows for the impouding of all materials, products and documentation relating to IP infringement.

It allows for the award of three times profits or damages in cases of intentional counterfeiting, as well as legal costs.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was a strong backer of the Act, as were trade unions and major content producers such as television networks.

When the law passed through the Senate, RIAA chief executive Mitch Bainwol said: "this bill truly is music to the ears of all those who care about strengthening American creativity and jobs. At a critical economic juncture, this bipartisan legislation provides enhanced protection for an important asset that helps lead our global competitiveness".