July 12, 2012 at 6:44 PM ET
The Internet regulation bill known as SOPA was decisively defeated in Congress earlier this year after an enormous outcry by activists, but fragments of it are turning up in other bills. One such bill — by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas — appeared this week that would place "intellectual property attachés" all over the world.
These attachés would represent U.S. interests abroad, specializing in copyright and intellectual property issues. The bill describes the attachés' purpose this way:
(1) to achieve potential benefit by reducing intellectual property infringement in the United States market and globally;
(2) to advance the intellectual property rights of United States persons and their licensees;
(3) to work with and advance the interests of United States persons who may otherwise be harmed by violations of intellectual property rights in those countries; and
(4) to promote the economic interests of the United States and market access by United States persons abroad.
There are already such attachés, but they are mostly situated in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; this act would not only place them in embassies and offices all over the world, but it would establish a new hierarchy and organization in which to manage them.
Having someone on the ground in a situation where there is a serious copyright or IP dispute is certainly a reasonable idea, but some have pointed out not only that is this the responsibility of the companies or persons who hold the copyright, but also that there are positions and agencies in place for this purpose already.
Public Knowledge, a blog that covers issues like Internet-related legislation and copyright, lists several in this post:
We already have, to name a few examples, an Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, Office of Intellectual Property Rights at the Department of Commerce, Office of International Intellectual Property Enforcement at the State Department, Office of the Administrator for Policy and External Affairs – Enforcement at the Patent and Trademark Office, National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, Office of Intellectual Property and Innovation at the United States Trade Representative, and Intellectual Property Task Force at the Department of Justice.
And the Electronic Frontier Foundation says that this new bill is recycled from SOPA ("Stop Online Piracy Act"): Section 205 of that bill had a provision for this exact program, using largely the same language. Congressman Smith, who led the push for SOPA, is also backing the IP Attaché bill.
Circumstances indicate that the bill is on the fast track: the bill first appeared on Saturday, and was scheduled to be introduced and looked over by the House Judiciary Committee (which Smith heads) on Tuesday. It was not introduced as planned; the committee issued a statement saying it was making some changes based on feedback that had been received and a new version of the bill will be provided soon "to ensure that the development of this bill continues to be an open and transparent process."
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.