US President George W Bush signed a bill on Monday which toughens penalties for copyright infringement, music and movie piracy and creates a high-level position of intellectual property czar.
The bill, which has been welcomed by trade groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), was one of a number of pieces of legislation signed by the president on Monday, the White House said.
The bill tightens civil and criminal intellectual property laws, imposes stricter penalties on violators and establishes the position of a White House-based "Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator."
Originally, that coordinator was housed at the Justice Department, but after the DOJ protested, the bill sponsors placed that position in the Executive Office of the President. A Senate-confirmed appointee from the Justice Department will be on the interagency committee.
The legislation is important to pharmaceutical companies, software producers and media content companies such as music and movie studios and television broadcasters. It provides the US Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation with more resources to fight intellectual property crimes, which are estimated to cost US businesses as much as $250 billion a year.
Bill sponsor Senator Patrick Leahy, said in a prepared statement that the measure is among the most important he has championed. "At a time of financial and economic turmoil, streamlining the government's efforts to protect one of our most important assets - intellectual property - makes good economic sense," he said.
"By becoming law, the PRO-IP Act sends the message to [intellectual property] criminals everywhere that the US will go the extra mile to protect American innovation," said US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue.
RIAA chairman Mitch Bainwol welcomed the new law after it passed the House of Representatives saying it was "music to the ears of all those who care about strengthening American creativity and jobs."
However, some public interest groups are still uncomfortable with the bill, saying it would lead to unintended harm. Advocacy group Public Knowledge was most ardent in opposing a measure that would allow for the seizure of devices used in piracy.
"Let's suppose that there's one computer in the house, and one person uses it for downloads and one for homework. The whole computer goes," said Public Knowledge spokesman Art Brodsky.
Brodsky goes on to argue that the PRO IP Act goes too far, allowing groups like the MPAA and RIAA to take alleged pirates to court. "There are already lots and lots of penalties for copyright violations," he said. "They've got all the tools they need."