June 15, 2024

Improving the PIRATE Act

Senators Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy have introduced a new bill, the PIRATE Act, that would authorize the U.S. government to bring civil lawsuits against copyright infringers, and would create a $2 million fund to pay for such suits. (Copyfight has the details.) Rather than doing this, it would be more efficient simply to give copyright owners the $2 million in cash, and let them decide whom to sue, or not to file suits at all.

If spending $2 million on lawsuits will deter enough infringement to increase (the present value of) future copyright revenues by more than $2 million, then copyright owners will find it in their interest to file the suits themselves. If not, then the government has no business filing the suits, since doing so would burn $2 million of government money to create a benefit of less than $2 million. So let’s save ourselves the trouble, and just give the cash to the RIAA and MPAA.

Criminal enforcement by the government might make sense, since private parties can’t bring criminal actions. But civil suits brought by the government, on the same terms those suits could be brought by copyright owners, can only be inefficient.

Worst of all, asking the Department of Justice to spend its valuable time and attention on small-fry copyright suits carries a high opportunity cost. The DoJ has much more important things to do. Copyright infringement is bad, but it’s hardly the greatest threat we face.


  1. Todd Jonz says

    Ed writes:

    > it would be more efficient simply to give copyright owners the
    > $2 million in cash, and let them decide whom to sue, or not to
    > file suits at all.

    I made the same argument when Washington decided that it needed to spend money to make air travel safer. At the time it was argued that requiring airlines to harden the cockpits of their planes (a la El Al) would be prohibitively expensive, and that it would be inappropriate for the government to underwrite such improvements. Today, however, I would suggest that the funding that has been pumped into the TSA would have been more than sufficient to secure the cockpits of the entire American fleet. It would also have gone a lot further to enhance airplane security than any meaures, current or planned, implemented by the TSA. (CAPPS II anyone?)

    In both cases we’re talking about security matters (securing IP and securing airplanes) and the government’s apparent fondness for “solutions” that give the appearance of taking action while actually making very little progress toward their intended goals. Perhaps this is due to the fact there are so few people in the government with a good “big picture” perspective on security. Bruce Schneier for President. 😉

  2. Cypherpunk says

    For reference the bill is S2237, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:S.2237:

  3. But there are advantages to having the government do the enforcement. 1) People may feel that lawsuits brought by the government are more legitimate than lawsuits brought by a cartel. 2) The government can use wiretaps to investigate copyright infringement – something that the RIAA can’t do. This means that the government can go after downloaders and can more easily prove their case against uploaders. 3) The government gives the RIAA a much bigger stick to use. After the government has sued an infringer, the RIAA can still bring a lawsuit (at least for 3 more years). So, you remain under the gun of another sure-fire, major damages lawsuit for 3 more years. This is a significant legal, tactical advantage for the RIAA.

    See my analysis: