House passes bill that will let the RIAA take away your home for downloading music

Glenn sez,
I was just alerted that the House of Reps has passed HR 4279, with the lovely name, PRO-IP (Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008). Like the doublespeak PATRIOT Act and Peacekeeper missiles, PRO-IP puts local law enforcement in a position to demand the forfeiture in criminal proceedings of stuff used to violate copyright. Which means that instead of the RIAA simply trying to collect fines, they can also incite local authorities to collect all the computers and related gear that was used to pirate.

This isn't a judgment on my part as to whether piracy is good or bad (I think copyright deserves to be protected through reasonable methods), but I am always horrified when civil enforcement morphs into criminal enforcement. Conservatives and liberals should be up in arms alike that local prosecutors and/or police could intervene as they desire in essentially a private affair arranged by the RIAA, and permanently seize thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in private property in addition to any civil penalties.

If this bill is passed in its present form by the Senate and signed, that means there's no more pro forma RIAA lawsuit payoffs, because if you wind up settling with the RIAA, you could still lose all your stuff in addition to any fee you paid them.

This is particularly irksome in light of the MSN Music shutdown, about which the EFF has written a strong and powerful letter. It is increasingly likely a normal person could have purchased music legally from an online site, burned it to an ordinary audio CD, and in the right set of circumstances be branded a pirate because the original "granting" authority no longer exists to prove that the consumer was a legitimate purchasers.

The more the law is constructed to sweep in folks who are absolutely observant of it, the more we need broader protections.

PDF Link (Thanks, Glenn!)


  1. There was a novel published about 10 years ago by an author named J K Jeter called Noir. In it, copyright had become so important that the punishment for violating it was to have your brain removed from your body and kept conscious in a jar with no sensory input and no way to communicate with the outside world. When I read it it seemed kind of far fetched. It seems a little more plausible these days.

  2. I made a mistake. The author of Noir is KW Jeter. J and K, are the initials of a much more famous author.

  3. From the article:

    “to collect all the computers and related gear that was used to pirate.”

    And the headline:

    “House passes bill that will let the RIAA take away your home for downloading music”

    You guys see anything odd about that?

    Back to the article:

    “and permanently seize thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in private property”

    Computers cost tens of thousands of dollars?

  4. Cory — Glenn’s a great guy and all, but he’s playing at Chicken Little with this one. There are lots of reasons not to like the bill, but it doesn’t mean”that instead of the RIAA simply trying to collect fines, they can also incite local authorities to collect all the computers and related gear that was used to pirate.” The bill doesn’t let RIAA take your house. And to the extent that the bill says anything about the government’s authority to do it, it doesn’t change the existing forfeiture authority for copyright very much at all – the government already has the authority to seize a lot of property used to commit crime. Unlike in some other countries, where any copyright violation can be prosecuted criminally (at least in theory), in the US copyright infringement can only be prosecuted criminally where it is willful and above a certain level or involves stuff that hasn’t been released yet.

    There are lots of things not to like in that “PRO IP” bill. Like the fact that it would create a new White House person whose job would essentially consist of pushing “IP industry” agenda. It’s weird that the point you and Glenn would fix on is the forfeiture one.

  5. Yes the government would take away your home and anything it can get its hands on if this passes.

    Look at how the War on (Some) Drugs has been handled.

    If you carry large amounts of cash, the government will take it away from you because it MIGHT be used for a drug purchase.

    Are you really going to rely on the government to show restraint?

  6. Good thing I don’t download music. Streaming Internet radio is so much more easy and legal.

  7. “…but I am always horrified when civil enforcement morphs into criminal enforcement.

    Civil enforcement? Does that mean if Jeff is guilty of violating Joe’s copyright, Joe has to take Jeff to civil court? Why yes it does. If I’ve broken the law, then it sould be a criminal matter for the government to prosecute. Criminal cases require a greater standard of evidence than do civil cases. If someone is going to enforce the “law” then that should be the governement, not private business. It costs a lot of money to sue someone. Civil law allows punitive damages, a very American way of punishing people, that may not have been otherwise found guilty had their trial been heard in criminal court. O.J. Simpson for instance. Civil law is a pain in the ass in America. It’s a way for the government to do less law enforement by shifting the burden of law enforement on the private citizen. Having to enforce the law this way is a way of telling people that they can have justice if they are willing to risk going broke to do so. Justice should be tax supported, not wallet supported.

  8. Assuming the home thing is right , this should be an easy enough law to sink. Just get enough people writing to their representatives asking if, with the current economy, they really want to publicly support a bill that will see more American families lose their homes.

  9. Considering the widespread abuse drug property seizure laws see (by greedy police departments who want the funding boost), the home thing is not unthinkable. In fact, it’s quite likely.

    Oh, and what’s that form of government characterized by the convolution of corporate and government power? Starts with an F. Man, this is gonna bug me allll day.

  10. My take on downloading: It’s pretty neat, as you get to try out the music before you buy it, and thus avoid contributing to the waste of CDs that you end up buying but don’t like.

    I think it’s sensible to support the *artist* if you like what he does. I think the companies are just after money. We’re seeing more decentralization these days though, and if people stopped buying Britney Spears, many of these companies would lose money the other way, if you get what I mean.

  11. Maybe I’m just ignorant, but I thought there were already laws in place which would allow the authorities to confiscate your gear, if you’re caught hacking. Seems like all they did, really, was just add “oh yeah, and stealing music” to that existing law.

    What’s more, I thought for sure that the RIAA was already seizing people’s computers when they pressed charges. So I don’t know if I really see anything changing with this little bill.

    I also don’t think your house is going to get seized because you have a comprehensive library of hair metal music on your computer. That just seems alarmist, to me. The computers and storage media could realistically go, but how is your place of residence even an issue in such a case? It isn’t.

  12. According to Ars Technica’s take on the law:

    So can the county seize your house and computers just for downloading a couple of unauthorized tracks? Not exactly. In this case, “piracy” actually means “piracy,” and it refers to the “manufacturing, distributing, selling, or possessing for sale of counterfeit goods, or recordings or audiovisual works which are improperly labeled under California Penal Code section 653w.”

    There’s no call for FUD here. If you want to find something to get angry about in this legislation, consider that this debacle just goes to show that the RIAA and MPAA’s lumping of peer-to-peerers in with knock-off vendors causes a great deal of unnecessary confusion.

    I think this is enough of a difference from what your posted article says that it really does warrant a correction update.

  13. #10,

    The relevant difference between civil and criminal proceedings is that in civil court it’s Alice v. Bob, whereas in criminal court it’s the government (on behalf of all Alices in its purview) v. Bob.

    Which is to say: the government on behalf of the music and movie industries v. *you*.

    And while the headline “take away your home for downloading music” is not specifically supported by the article, you can bet that the government will use all the tools at its disposal to to seize all the assets it can in its new War on Piracy, just as it currently does in its War on Terrorism, its War on Kiddie Porn and its War on Drugs.

  14. I just now called my senators (Kennedy and Kerry). Never did that before – felt good.

  15. #10 and #17, another difference is that civil law (such as tort law) exists to give private persons a remedy for wrongs done to them – they can sue, and get money damages to put them in the position they would have been in had the defendant not committed the act. This is particularly important for acts that are not bad enough to be crimes (like automobile negligence – failing to look before you change lanes, for instance) but it also applies to many intentional acts, such as battery and false imprisonment.

    Criminal law exists to punish wrongdoers who have committed a wrong against all of society, like murder (which is both a wrong against the victim and his or her family, and against society as a whole). Criminal law also exists to deter the criminal, to deter others, and, in some cases, to isolate the criminal from society to prevent future crimes.

    Criminal law does nothing to give wronged individuals a remedy for harm to them. Restitution, if paid, is often paid to the “general restitution fund” rather than to the individual fictim. Assets collected in criminal law enforcement go to more law enforcement.

    It is best for a society to define as crimes only acts that violate the interests of all of society – that is, only the most serious wrongs – and to punish them at the appropriate level. It’s wrong to punish minor crimes too severely.

  16. Treat me like a pirate and I’ll act like a pirate.
    Come get some.
    I’m not being an internet tough guy. You come for my stuff (like maybe my house) and you have just stood between me and my family.

    You will be dealt with in the same way as any home invader.

  17. Screw the article, screw the headline. Read the bill itself before drawing any conclusions.

    It’s totally creepy!!! Read it!!! Ob my God!!!

  18. This might not be all bad.
    The law’s moving on from a situation where the music industry can bring a civil prosecution against the people they want, to this being a criminal issue.

    This has a few benefits. Firstly, the degree of proof required for criminal proceedings is greater. Secondly, Government is less likely to start fining random people (cf Grandmother served with piracy), and finally, the fact that this is a criminal issue may mean that anyone can force an investigation.

    This may sound like a bad thing, but it means that (for example), with proof, I personally can invoke this piracy law and pressure the authorities to investigate anyone who may have broken the law. This includes companies like the RIAA who (what with their access to huge libraries of music) probably have large numbers of staff with pirated music collections.

    One of the reasons intellectual property laws are bad is because they can be selectively targeted at those that do not control the media. If you remove the ability to control that targeting, then you’re a step closer to making everyone realise how stupid and destructive the laws are.

  19. @15: That is exactly why this bill, if it were true, is so ludicrous. The crime and its retribution are disproportionate.

    It’s even more worrying in the light of the number of potential offenders– how many people here have actually paid for every single piece of music we have on our computers, by legal means? It’s a good bet most of us wouldn’t have.

    To put it another way, this is akin to making jaywalking punishable by amputation. Is jaywalking a bad thing? Yes, it potentially endangers the life of others. Do a lot of people still jaywalk anyway? Yes… sometimes it’s easier, and it’s not such a big deal. Do all of these people deserve to have their legs cut off? ….no, I don’t think so.

  20. @16 – But with modern peer-to-peer software, you *are* distributing when you’re downloading – bits of the file are automatically offered to other peers for download. So you fall under that clause.

  21. #22
    That’s true for the people who have the money for lawyers and the time pursue action.

    The RIAA has plenty of both- Me, not so much.

  22. THis is nothing, the real killer will be this law if it gets passed.

    The Orphan Works Act of 2008
    Bill # H.R.5889

    “The Orphan Works Act will “solve the Orphan Works problem” by classing as an orphan any work whose author any infringer can successfully define as one. This will result in orphan status being assigned to any work, despite its age, even where the artist is alive, working and easily locatable by others. To repeat: even if 10 users (or 100) can find a given artist, this bill will allow a single infringer who can defend in court his failure to find the artist, to establish that the artist’s work was an orphan for legal purposes. This would include any works, from professional paintings to vacation photos, including any pictures that reside or have ever resided on the internet.”

    The upshot of the Orphan Works legislation will be to make it prohibitively expensive for artists to protect their work. While at the same time making it extremely easy for studios to appropriate everything they can find on the internet.

    The link above and the text I quoted deal with visual works but it would apply to any creative product. MP3’s posted on a website as a free sample could be taken away from you. There is a lot I haven’t quoted here. Read it and imagine how it could also apply to music or text.

    The ownership society = “We own everything, you own nothing.”

  23. #22
    That’s true for the people who have the money for lawyers and the time pursue action.

    The RIAA has plenty of both- Me, not so much.

  24. #19:

    “Criminal law does nothing to give wronged individuals a remedy for harm to them. Restitution, if paid, is often paid to the “general restitution fund” rather than to the individual fictim. Assets collected in criminal law enforcement go to more law enforcement.”

    I don’t know if the word fictim was a typo or not, but I believe a beautiful new word was born today. The fictitious victim, victim of a victimless crime, the fictim. Apply as needed.

  25. Does anyone have a record of how individual Reps voted on this? I’d like to know whether I owe my Rep a disgruntled phone call.

    Also, CALL YOUR SENATORS! Make some noise, folks!

  26. Kennric 29: I agree. What it brings to mind is the case of the kid who was tried as an adult for selling pictures of his underaged self on the internet. You could say he was a victim, but if you say he’s a perp, who’s the victim?

  27. “Fictim” – I’ll accept that coinage! Well done.

    Just a few more spices to add to the crockpot:

    Educating regular on Copyright is an uphill battle, at best.

    Few folk now grok the idea that Science and Expression belong to all, and that Copyright is the granting of a LIMITED monopoly in order to encourage development without emaciating the public weal.

    At least in the US, as originally envisioned by the Framers.

    This very idea has become lost in the obfuscating thickets of the Valenti glamour known as “Intellectual Property.”

    Now that folk have been conditioned by repeated incantations of the “Intellectual Property” enchantment over the past two generations, they tend to accept the formulation that Ideas are Things,and Things are meant to be owned, not shared in consumer/capital society.

    The public weal is all ready an undernourished, behavioral disordered halfwit, and so appeals to the public for the need to keep it fed only bring blank stares.

    Now try getting a politician, who chiefly shares his discourse only with other politicians and lobbyists, to understand this.

    All they see is that, since Ideas are Things, folks that use them without permission are thieves.

    And so bills like this pass 410-11.

    Despite (and this is my other point,if you can call these crude meanders ‘points’) the rather active and vocal opposition of Law Enforcement. Who correctly see the fiscal, bureaucratic and working nightmare that adding a CopyCzar to the rolls of Federal Government will create.

    Business and labor are behind this bill, not law enforcement.

    The DoJ has objected to the bill many times. But the politikis will hide behind the badge as they “fight crime” and “international piracy” with this “new, tough bill.”

    This bill, and its many many cousins and siblings in the US and abroad, are about one thing, and one thing only:

    In the 21st Century, governments exists to protect the interests of the Factory and not the People.


    It should be no surprise that Kucinich and Ron Paul voted no.

    Nay AK-0 Young, Donald [R]
    Nay AZ-6 Flake, Jeff [R]
    Nay CA-4 Doolittle, John [R]
    Nay CA-16 Lofgren, Zoe [D]
    Nay GA-3 Westmoreland, Lynn [R]
    Nay OH-10 Kucinich, Dennis [D]
    Nay TN-2 Duncan, John [R]
    Nay TX-2 Poe, Ted [R]
    Nay TX-14 Paul, Ronald [R]
    Nay VA-9 Boucher, Frederick [D]
    Nay WI-4 Moore, Gwen [D]

  29. The text of the bill states that somebody’s home can be taken away. The potential for misuse of this is frightening, especially when you consider all the false positives (dead people, very old people, kids, people who never use their computer, etc)

  30. It is past time to hit these maggots where it hurts the most…their wallets.

    I personally have not purchased a CD, purchased online downloads (especially following the MSN fun events) and refuse to do so until this crap ends.

    The storm trooper tactics are absolutely intolerable.

  31. @23
    I understand you there, and it would be dumb to disagree with your point. I guess what I was trying to say earlier is that there are already laws on the books that make it okay to seize property used in the commission of a crime. There’s no need for an entire bill to pass just to say “oh yeah, we mean pirating media, too.”

    It seems silly, and I bet the bill won’t pass at all. It would be redundant to pass such a thing.

    As it stands, I bet you’re right – I bet most people with digital music archives have a pirated track or two mixed in there, to say the least. It’s also illegal to not come to a complete stop at a stop sign, spit in public and park more than 18″ from the curb. That doesn’t mean we’re all going to jail tomorrow for crappy parking and going “ptooey” when a bug flies into our faces. But it does mean each of us who is guilty of such infractions COULD be arrested for them. Such is the law, and so it is with hacking and pirating.

  32. Everybody who read the bill, please raise your hands. Okay, just me then.

    any property constituting or derived from any proceeds obtained directly or indirectly as a result of a violation…

    It also references the “steal the drug dealers’ cars act” of 1970. This means that they can take your house. They can take your car. They can even take your pets. This is a blanket law that allows indiscriminate seizure of property in order to inspire terror in potential perpetrators, which in this case is the entire populace.

    And please – RTFBill before getting all high and mighty.

  33. “Text entered was wrong”. Screw it.

    Short version: Record companies are doomed, music is not culturally important anymore.

  34. Time for an Intellectual Property Tax..

    This could be a wonderful revenue opportunity for cash-strapped state and local governments.

    When such a court claim is made on infringement of this intellectual property by a business located within the tax jurisdiction, just take the claimed infringement value and multiply it by the prevailing property tax rate and invoice said property holder. (Be sure to tack on interest and penalties for back taxes.)

    If property holder doesn’t pay in 90 days, start lien and foreclosure proceedings.

    To recover the costs of this collection, auction off this IP. If there is no starting bid (1% of value), property becomes public domain.

    The above would be based upon “fair market value” as declared by the infringement claims brought to court and not on “intrinsic value.” This has the effect of making open source software tax exempt provided it is made available at no cost.

    Disclosure (and shameless self-promotion):
    I started a similar thread over on Slashdot at

  35. Since when can a private organization or business impose legislature. Last time I checked that is completely illegal. If this continues McDonald’s will be able to sue and take our private property away because say that there burgers taste bad.

  36. Piracy is the new crack. All white boys will be locked up in prison soon over piracy paraphernalia.

  37. Since when can a private organization or business impose legislature.

    That’s what I’ve always wondered. How is it that the RIAA gets away with all these lawsuits? Can’t a judge just look at the charges, say, “3,000 dollars per song? Are you nuts? Case dismissed.”

  38. Can you say ‘plutocracy’? Judges and all other officials are either appointed by, or elected with, the funding of captains of industry. It’s actually far better now that it was fifty or a hundred years ago. Back then, they just called the military in to shoot you if you got uppity.

  39. 200 years ago if someone went to a judge and asked for government protection for something of this nature they would be dismissed instantly. The gov. has went down hill since Roosevelt. If the government can get away with taking your money and taxing wages why cant the business that paid for that official to be in power get some of the pie too. This country has forgotten what treason is. Now the RIAA hasn’t committed treason just because they got away with it. The people that have been paid and passed the law without the peoples best interest in mind have. Its probably the worst time to live in America. Citizens are losing there rights and private industry pays for all our representation no matter how the public has voted.

  40. TechMonkey
    “Since when can a private organization or business impose legislature.”

    Wow, where’ve you been. Hon, they write the legislation these days. They don’t even try to hide it any more.

  41. The goverment can get something done…now it needs to work on doing something for the people again.

  42. I have some simple solutions. If the government does even a few of these things it will make the Country better.

    Get out of Foreign entanglements.
    Get rid of Federal Bank.

    Figure out a better way to fund government other than charging income tax and payroll tax. (In case people don’t know there is nothing on the books anywhere stating that its legal for them to do that.)

    Dissolve NAFTA and all free trade agreements.

    Tell the WTO to go away. No one elected them and they shouldn’t have any power. At most they should be consultants. As they are now they control trade.

    Charge Tariff’s again.

    Stop making amendments and laws that protect business’s and hurt the general public.

    Back our money by gold stop printing more paper.(Germany knows what happens when we do that.)

    Make lobby donations and lobbiests in general illegal. RIAA is just another lobby in my opinion. They are just as bad as the corn lobbiests who make it more profitable to let your corn rot in silos than sell it or give it to poorer nations.

    Stop dealing with OPEC. They support themselves and only themselves and do not have the world in mind. If you have enough money to create islands where there were none and make a ski lodge in a 120 degree desert you have way too much money and power.

    I know its a big list but even if they did 1/3rd of the things listed the country would become stronger and better in less than 5 years.

  43. #7: Hey, Paul: “The bill doesn’t let RIAA take your house.” This bill doesn’t, but the law is intertwingled, and the specifics of this bill lead to a slippery slope. I would happily make some kind of “buy you and 10 friends a round of drinks” bet about the first seizure of greater than $50,000 or first house seizure in some period of time following the bill being enacted into law! I’d love to be wrong. But it’s one of series of forfeiture bills that I am stunned conservatives haven’t gone apoplectic about. It’s a Rabbi Akiva reaction: Conservations should hate this and similar bills, but because they believe that the law has not come for them, they stay quiet. Or laugh.

    #16: That’s an LA county law, not the House bill that was passed.

    #5: “House passes bill that will let the RIAA take away your home for downloading music”: Yup, the current drug seizure/forfeiture laws started out as “stuff used to sell/make drugs,” and were quickly expanded to mean houses, boats, etc.

    #5: “and permanently seize thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in private property”: ‘Computers cost tens of thousands of dollars?’

    The officers and court officials could decide that every computer and recording device in a home, and all personal electronics, were involved in infringing uses. While I don’t have $10,000s of equipment, if you had a little four-person nuclear family with a couple of TVs and one computer per person, you could cross $10,000.

    Take an avid recorder/gamer and all their AV/computer gear, and I would guess more than $10,000 is easy to reach.

    See #40’s note about the drug dealer’s car act.

  44. In China, individual police can buy speed cameras and set up their own profit centers. For decades, Louisiana police could feather their nests with “drug asset” forfeiture laws (ie: any out-of-state car). Music piracy? Why not. “Citizen” means “meat cattle”.

    Maybe it is better to be on the other side of the fence.

  45. I can’t believe no one here has addressed the simple fact that this seizure only happens with respect to property used to commit CRIMINAL copyright infringement.

    First, it’s very difficult to prove criminal copyright infringement (that whole “beyond reasonable doubt” standard).

    The people prosecuted for criminal copyright infringement are those who have WILLFULLY done copyright infringement for commercial advantage, who do $1,000 worth of distribution/reproduction of copyrighted material, or leaking a soon-to-be-published work before it comes out.

    The people targeted by this law are the hard core pirates Cory and his ilk constantly say OUGHT TO BE the ones the government targets.

  46. The mere name of this bill shows it is evil.
    The term “intellectual property” spreads bias and
    confusion whenever it is used; that is why the
    record companies like it.

    “Pirate” is another propaganda term.
    It equates sharing with attacking ships.
    That is absurd: sharing is the basis of society;
    to attack sharing is to attack society.

    Every time you use their propaganda terms, you
    support the way they want to frame the issues.
    If you don’t support them, please
    join in rejecting their propaganda.

  47. Forget the death of the ownership society, this is a step in making certain information and media a controlled substance.

  48. …meanwhile, major record labels are pushing sure-sell recording acts who are either well-established or heavily groomed to be popular based on market research of current musical trends.

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