Controversial Copyright Legislation May Show Up in ‘Must Pass’ US Spending Bill

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Several controversial copyright bills are reportedly being added to the US 'must-pass' spending bill. This includes the CASE Act and a proposal to make streaming piracy a felony. Tech companies and civil rights groups are calling on lawmakers to reject these plans.

congressNext week, US lawmakers are expected to present the spending bill that keeps the government running.

This ‘must pass’ legislation, also known as the appropriations bill, is often padded in order to get unrelated proposals passed before the end of the year.

While the official content remains unknown at the time of writing, several groups and organizations are already sounding the alarm bell. Based on sources, there is fear that several controversial pieces of copyright legislation will be tagged on.

The CASE Act

The CASE Act is one of the bills that may be added. Short for “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement,” it proposes to establish a copyright claim tribunal within the United States Copyright Office.

If adopted, the new board will provide an option to resolve copyright disputes outside the federal courts, which significantly reduces the associated costs. As such, it aims to make it easier for smaller creators, such as photographers, to address copyright infringements.

Opponents fear that the new tribunal will trigger an avalanche of claims against ordinary Internet users, with potential damages of up to $30,000 per case. While targeted people have the choice to opt-out, many simply have no clue what to do, they argue.

Despite fierce protests, the CASE Act passed the House with an overwhelming majority last year. And now it is possibly being added to the spending bill, Techdirt reports, which means that it could soon become law.

Streaming Piracy Felony Proposal

Another controversial proposal that may end up in the spending bill should sound familiar too. Protocol writes that Senator Thom Tillis will, once again, is trying to make streaming piracy a felony.

Under current law, unauthorized streaming is categorized as a public performance instead of distribution, which is punishable as a misdemeanor, not a felony. Lawmakers tried to change this with the SOPA and PIPA bills but these didn’t pass. The plan never completely disappeared, however.

Earlier this year it gained momentum again in Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. Senator Tillis, who chairs the subcommittee, has reportedly picked up the baton and added the proposal to the spending bill.

Opposition

In addition to the two aforementioned pieces of legislation, the Trademark Modernization Act is also on the list of additions. Together, these bills present a volatile mix of copyright-related plans that should not be rushed through, opponents warn.

A group of civil rights groups, tech companies, libraries and educators recently shared their concerns in a letter (pdf) to the U.S. Senate.

“We write to you today regarding recently reported efforts to include a package of intellectual property bills in the year-end spending bill that includes the CASE Act, the Trademark Modernization Act and a felony streaming proposal,” it begins.

Unintended Consequences

The signatories, including the CCIA, the Internet Archive, the Internet Association, the Library Copyright Alliance, and the Center for Democracy & Technology, warn that these proposals will have negative impacts on many organizations and Internet users in general.

“All signatories have serious concerns with at least some aspect of the bills slated to be included in their current state, and we stand ready to work with Congress to avoid their unintended consequences,” the letter reads.

“In order to allow that process to take place, we ask that you decline to include this package of bills in any must-pass government funding bill, and instead allow these bills to be considered through the regular order process.”

While the addition of the controversial plans have yet to be confirmed, the opposition is already in full swing. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example, is calling on the public to urge senators not to pass the CASE Act.

“The CASE Act could mean Internet users facing $30,000 penalties for sharing a meme or making a video. It has no place in must-pass legislation,” EFF writes.

If these three proposals are indeed added to the spending bill, more opposition is likely to follow. That said, the bills also have substantial support in the creative industries, so there will be plenty of backing as well.

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