Politics

Lawmakers are cramming controversial copyright provisions into a must-pass spending bill

Congress might finally pass the CASE Act, to the chagrin of Big Tech and civil liberties groups.

Lawmakers are cramming controversial copyright provisions into a must-pass spending bill

The CASE ACT, Trademark Modernization Act and a felony streaming proposal could make it into the year-end omnibus bill.

Photo: Getty Images

Lawmakers are cramming multiple controversial copyright provisions into a must-pass spending bill at the eleventh hour, stirring up pushback from tech companies and civil liberties activists who say they're skirting proper procedure in order to create a system that's vulnerable to abuse.

The House and Senate Judiciary Committees have agreed to include a package of three provisions — the controversial CASE Act, the Trademark Modernization Act and a felony streaming proposal — in the omnibus spending bill, which must pass before a Dec. 11 government shutdown deadline, according to two congressional aides.

A group of 18 organizations, including tech trade groups, advocacy organizations and multiple library associations, are urging congressional leadership to decline to include the provisions, according to a letter obtained by Protocol on Friday.

"We respect Congress's intent to improve our intellectual property system and protect the rights of creators and entrepreneurs," the groups, including the Internet Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Library Association, wrote. "However, certain aspects of this package of bills will have negative impacts on small- and medium-sized businesses, creators, libraries and their patrons, students, teachers, educational institutions, religious institutions, fan communities, internet users, and free expression."

Congress is still hashing out the contours of the spending bill, and they're running against a tough deadline as they negotiate over broader questions, including whether the bill should include COVID-19 relief spending.

But it's the closest Congress has come to actually passing the CASE Act, legislation at the center of a battle between Big Tech and rights holders. Supporters, including the Copyright Alliance, say the legislation would make it easier for independent artists to bring claims without going through federal court. Under the current system, victims of copyright violation have no cost-effective way to get compensated for their work when it's used without their permission. The CASE Act would create a quasi-judicial body in the Copyright Office to award damages up to $30,000 to copyright holders who find their creative work being passed around online.

But critics of the bill insist the CASE Act would just set up an easier system for copyright trolls to exploit without any ability to appeal. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has warned that the legislation could "ruin the lives of regular people; people who are engaging in the things we all do when we're online: sharing memes, sharing videos, and downloading images."

"Passing the CASE Act without reforms will unleash a host of lawsuits against innocent internet users and restrict their ability to defend themselves against trolls," said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in a statement to protocol. Wyden previously tried to negotiate with Senators John Kennedy and Dick Durbin to figure out a different path forward on the CASE Act. "It is tremendously disappointing that powerful lobbying groups may be close to attaching this flawed legislation to a must-pass spending bill without commonsense changes to protect Americans from predatory copyright trolls."

The Trademark Modernization Act, meanwhile, would crack down on the increase in fraudulent trademark filings from foreign countries including China. It would give the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office more flexibility to crack down on illegitimate trademark claims — while also creating a new opportunity for so-called "trademark trolls" who make money off of registering trademarks without intending to use them. That legislation hasn't passed the House or the Senate.

And the final provision, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis' felony streaming proposal, has not yet been introduced as legislation. But the proposal would provide the DOJ with the authority to charge commercial enterprises that are streaming certain kinds of works with felony copyright infringement, a primary concern for professional sports organizations and the powerful Motion Picture Association.

The three provisions are likely being tied together in order to create a coalition of rights-holders against the proposals' many critics, said one tech industry source.

"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.

The House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"This backroom deal to empower copyright and trademark trolls as part of a must-pass bill would have sweeping negative consequences for the entire internet ecosystem," said Mike Lemon, a senior director with the Internet Association, which represents the Silicon Valley giants. "Copyright and trademark reform are important policy issues that warrant fulsome, measured debate. Jamming such significant measures into a government funding bill is bad policymaking."

Fintech

Gavin Newsom shows crypto some California love

“A more flexible approach is needed,” Gov. Newsom said in rejecting a bill that would require crypto companies to get a state license.

Strong bipartisan support wasn’t enough to convince Newsom that requiring crypto companies to register with the state’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation is the smart path for California.

Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media

The Digital Financial Assets Law seemed like a legislative slam dunk in California for critics of the crypto industry.

But strong bipartisan support — it passed 71-0 in the state assembly and 31-6 in the Senate — wasn’t enough to convince Gov. Gavin Newsom that requiring crypto companies to register with the state’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation is the smart path for California.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Workplace

Slack’s rallying cry at Dreamforce: No more meetings

It’s not all cartoon bears and therapy pigs — work conferences are a good place to talk about the future of work.

“We want people to be able to work in whatever way works for them with flexible schedules, in meetings and out of meetings,” Slack chief product officer Tamar Yehoshua told Protocol at Dreamforce 2022.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Dreamforce is primarily Salesforce’s show. But Slack wasn’t to be left out, especially as the primary connector between Salesforce and the mainstream working world.

The average knowledge worker spends more time using a communication tool like Slack than a CRM like Salesforce, positioning it as the best Salesforce product to concern itself with the future of work. In between meeting a therapy pig and meditating by the Dreamforce waterfall, Protocol sat down with several Slack execs and conference-goers to chat about the shifting future.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

LA is a growing tech hub. But not everyone may fit.

LA has a housing crisis similar to Silicon Valley’s. And single-family-zoning laws are mostly to blame.

As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers, whose high salaries put them at an advantage in both LA's renting and buying markets.

Photo: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol

LA’s tech scene is on the rise. The number of unicorn companies in Los Angeles is growing, and the city has become the third-largest startup ecosystem nationally behind the Bay Area and New York with more than 4,000 VC-backed startups in industries ranging from aerospace to creators. As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers. The city is quickly becoming more and more like Silicon Valley — a new startup and a dozen tech workers on every corner and companies like Google, Netflix, and Twitter setting up offices there.

But with growth comes growing pains. Los Angeles, especially the burgeoning Silicon Beach area — which includes Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey — shares something in common with its namesake Silicon Valley: a severe lack of housing.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Policy

SFPD can now surveil a private camera network funded by Ripple chair

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that the ACLU and EFF argue will further criminalize marginalized groups.

SFPD will be able to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks in certain circumstances.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ripple chairman and co-founder Chris Larsen has been funding a network of security cameras throughout San Francisco for a decade. Now, the city has given its police department the green light to monitor the feeds from those cameras — and any other private surveillance devices in the city — in real time, whether or not a crime has been committed.

This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan to allow SFPD to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks during life-threatening emergencies, large events, and in the course of criminal investigations, including investigations of misdemeanors. The decision came despite fervent opposition from groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which say the police department’s new authority will be misused against protesters and marginalized groups in a city that has been a bastion for both.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Latest Stories
Bulletins