The U.S. House of Representatives has just passed, under suspension of House rules, the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (PRO IP) Act. An official quorum vote is expected on the House floor this evening.

Introduced by House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers Jr. last December, the Act (H.R. 4279) would create the office of a U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Representative in the White House to represent and advise the president on IP issues. The representative would produce a national joint strategic plan to protect and enforce IP rights, and would be responsible for seeing its implementation by various government agencies.

Conyers says that the Act will: (1) prioritize intellectual property protection to the highest level of our government; (2) make changes to IP law to enhance the ability of IP owners to effectively enforce their rights; (3) make it easier to criminally prosecute repeat offenders; and (4) increase penalties for IP violations that endanger public health and safety.

"This bill will go a long way towards making sure law enforcement agencies have what they need to get the job done," says David Israelite, president/CEO of the National Music Publishers' Assn. and former Justice Department chairman of the Intellectual Property Task Force. "Of note is the fact that this legislation garnered support from a bipartisan majority of members, and a diverse group of industry, trade groups and labor unions."

The Act would also establish a formal IP Enforcement Division within the office of the Deputy Attorney General. Currently, the DOJ has an IP Task Force. An IP Enforcement Officer, appointed by the attorney general and reporting to the deputy attorney general, would head the division.

"This is a strong, common sense measure that provides new tools and resources to help protect one of this nation's most important economic engines," says Mitch Bainwol, chairman/CEO of the RIAA. "We are transitioning from a nation whose economy was driven by what we created with our hands to one driven by what we create with our minds. This creative and economic genius deserves to reach its full potential, and this bill is an important step toward achieving that goal. The unanimous bipartisan support for this legislation speaks to a widespread recognition by policymakers of the economic importance of the creative industries and the necessary tools to protect it."

Specifically, federal civil law would be amended to: (1) provide a safe harbor for copyright registrations that contain inaccurate information so such technical errors would not prevent a judgment for infringement; (2) provide that copyright registration requirements, like the necessity of filing a registration before suing an infringer, apply to civil -- not criminal -- infringement actions; (3) require courts to issue protective orders to prevent disclosure of seized records relating to copyright infringement; (4) revise standards for civil damages in copyright infringement and counterfeiting cases; and (5) prohibit importing and exporting of infringing copies of copyrighted works.

Federal criminal law would be amended to: (1) enhance criminal penalties for infringement of a copyright, for trafficking in counterfeit labels or packaging, and for causing serious bodily harm or death while trafficking in counterfeit goods or services; and (2) enhance civil and criminal forfeiture provisions for copyright infringement and provide for restitution to victims of such infringement.

No companion bill has yet been introduced in the Senate.