Congressional leaders have revealed their comprehensive spending and COVID-19 relief bill, which includes controversial copyright initiatives that civil liberties advocates worry could punish internet users for ordinary online behavior.
Measures found in the $2.3 trillion spending package include the Trademark Modernization Act, the CASE Act, and a felony streaming proposal. All of these expand the powers and rights of intellectual property owners.
If the CASE Act is passed, it would create a tribunal of “Copyright Claims Officers, who would be tasked with resolving copyright infringement claims. As stipulated in the bill, if the creative work is shared online and is discovered by the copyright owners, they could be awarded as much as $30,000.
Proponents argue that this bill would allow independent artists to issue copyright claims without having to incur the expense of going through the federal courts. The bill’s critics, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argue that it could see ordinary internet users fined for engaging in ordinary online behavior, such as sharing memes.
A provision written by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) would let the Justice Department charge companies for felony copyright infringement if they intentionally stream copyright-protected material. The Trademark Modernization Act allows third parties to tell the Patent Office to reject applications to fight “trademark trolls” who make a profit from fanciful trademarks they don’t intend to use.