October 14, 2008

Lame Duck Expands Cabinet

You didn't notice. You probably didn't care. But there is a new Cabinet-level branch of government here in the United States, as of today. Congress, in the midst of the worst financial crisis in three generations, in the middle of a dramatic Presidential election, and while we are fighting not one but two land wars in Asia -- those heroes in Congress found the time and energy to protect their rich donors in the entertainment industry from college students sharing music files.

I kid. Protecting intellectual property is important, precisely because our intellectual property is on its way to being the biggest export of the United States to the rest of the world. Creative people need to be rewarded for their work and copyright is how we do it.

But that doesn't mean I think it's a good idea for the government to create a Cabinet-level position to do it. Online music and video piracy is a fluid, rapidly-changing environment. Can anyone trying to run an organ of the United States Government called the Office of the United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Representative possibly react with the kind of speed and technological savvy necessary to keep up with Sergei and Xia, who are busy even now finding new and innovative ways to move music around for cheap from their hidden cyberbase located somewhere around Vladivostok? I don't think so.

There are significantly enhanced criminal penalties in the new law, like mandatory trebled damages for trademark counterfeiting. But I despair -- Congress' solution to this problem is to create a new bureaucracy to fight it, not to rely on the people who directly benefit financially to enforce their intellectual property rights. Disney does not need anyone to tell them to go out and sue people who steal their stuff. What Congress should have done was to make it easier and more cost-effective for civil enforcement. As I understand it, the Bush Administration wasn't real happy about this bill, but it passed with veto-proof majorities and enjoyed broad bipartisan support, so it got signed into law today and soon enough, we will have an IP Czar joining the many other Czars floating around the government. Now if only we could have a Czar of Czars to oversee what all of these policy-specific Czars were up to...

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