Why, Congress, Why?

19 October 2008

Today's look at the PRO-IP bill (S. 3325) will focus on the "Sense of Congress."  Perhaps there are reasons for the changes made by this law, things Congress knows that we don't understand yet.  Perhaps....

Here are four reasons Congress listed as its sense for why the US needed to strengthen its IP laws: (S. 3325 § 503.)  (Later this week, we will look at the rest.)

  • the United States intellectual property industries have created millions of high-skill, high-paying United States jobs and pay billions of dollars in annual United States tax revenues;

Yes, this is probably true.  IP is so prevalent in society that I'll even accept that at least 1 out of every 300 Americans is employed in a high-skill, high-paying job because of an IP industry.  (Current population approx. 300 million.)

  • the United States intellectual property industries continue to represent a major source of creativity and innovation, business start-ups, skilled job creation, exports, economic growth, and competitiveness;

Again, a true statement.  But while both these statements are factual, the nexus between them and the changes made to law seems to be missing.

  • counterfeiting and infringement results in billions of dollars in lost revenue for United States companies each year and even greater losses to the United States economy in terms of reduced job growth, exports, and competitiveness;

Ah yes, the good ol' piracy is killing our industries and our economy.  I don't need to get into this because ars technica did a wonderful piece about "The dodgy digits behind the war on piracy."

  • the growing number of willful violations of existing Federal criminal laws invoking counterfeiting and infringement by actors in the United States and increasingly, by foreign-based individuals and entities is a serious threat to the long-term vitality of the United States economy and the future competitiveness of United States industry;

This statement could be true; I have no idea.  I'm not a fortune-teller.  However, I think Congress overlooked something very important here:  "the growing number of willful violations."  The question should not be "how do we stop this growth?"  The question should be, "why is there a growing number of willful violations?"  Let's think about this for a moment.  What are some reasons people break the law?

  1. Extreme Desperation: such as drove Jean Valjean to steal a loaf of bread in Les Miserables.  While that could be a reason for people supporting their families through the sale of pirated cds in third world markets , it probably does not explain the "growing number of willful violations" in the US. 
  2. Ignorance: On the other extreme there's the ignorance plea, the kind used to excuse a child for stealing a candy bar from the supermarket.  "He didn't know any better; I'll pay for it," and all is well again.  With the high-profile lawsuits like Napster, Grokster and the Thomas case, as well as the ever present anti-piracy trailers at the beginning of every movie and warnings posted on everything we buy, it's highly unlikely anyone can claim ignorance of copyright infringement laws.
  3. Bullshit: The general population either doesn't care about the law or doesn't understand the reasoning behind the law.  Or, even more likely with such a large increase in willful violations, the people DISAGREE with the law.  They don't think it's for their benefit, or even the benefit of the country as a whole.

Now, without getting into all the different philosophical theories about laws and legal systems, I would like to suggest that if there is a large showing of people who break a law or do not believe in a law, the lawmakers should step back and re-evaluate said law, and possibly who this government is "of," "for," and "by."

Image by: Lovelypetal cc-by, available at http://farm1.static.flickr.com/181/445070705_c2b64a0560.jpg?v=0


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