Hal Halpin, head of the Entertainment Consumers Association, is worried over the future of gamers’ rights with the passing of new national anti-piracy legislation.

A month ago, President Bush signed a bipartisan bill known as the PRO IP Act, a law that greatly extends the governments ability to capture and punish people with illegal copyrighted material in their possession. Fighting pirates is a noble goal, however the legislation threatens to severely crack down on individuals who have committed minor crimes by forcing dissenters to pay outrageous fines (potentially ten times as much as offenders would’ve paid under older laws).

An example provided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains that “someone who downloads each individual track from Guns N’ Roses’ 12-track Appetite for Destruction album could face a maximum statutory penalty of $360,000; as opposed to the current limit of $30,000 for the album.”

“The PRO IP Act was concerning for us primarily because the wording of the law was so broad and open to interpretation,” worried Halpin, whose organization fights to protect the interest of game consumers against government and publisher abuse. “It also provides intellectual property holders with unusually over-reaching rights and at a time when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) too empowers that same community.”

Misguided actions taken by publishers to protect software sales, such as annoying digital rights management, may continue to hurt customer trust over the longer term as it did for music labels who fought Napster only to be labeled as sellouts and resisted the digital distribution market while CD sales fell.

“I fear that PRO IP and DMCA will drive a wedge between the producer/consumer relationship, one that has served the games business well,” explained Halpin. “I would also hate to see us collectively follow the path that the music industry has followed. In addition to it being a patently bad model, proven unsuccessful by every measure, it’s also clearly ineffective. Worrying still is how handily it passed – with broad support from both parties. The fact that the Vice-President Elect continues to be a proud sponsor makes me think that it’ll be a bumpy ride… one played out in America’s courts, for a long time to come.”

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