04/02/2008 06:08 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hollywood's Greed Makes April Fool's Joke Believable

Criticizing Hollywood for being greedy is pretty easy. It's rare when they are not greedy, particularly when it comes to their assaults on Congress. Making the point in a little off-beat fashion can be much more satisfying, and that's what we did at Public Knowledge, where I work during the day.

If there's anything better than a simple April Fool's prank, it's a more complex one that also has a second act - a delayed reaction that puts the joke into a larger context or proper perspective.

Early on Tuesday, April 1, we "disclosed" a new piece of legislation, S. 4108, a bill to modernize copyright and intellectual property protections. A close look at the bill number might be a tipoff, and a close reading of the bill certainly would have been.

It was a masterful production by our attorney, Sherwin Siy. It looks like a bill and reads like a bill, and has all sorts of legislative tricks like a real bill. For a community used to acronyms and bureaucracy, the creation of a Department of Intellectual Property Security (DIPS) was no big deal. That it coordinated the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (CHIPS) agency, making a CHIPS and DIPS combination, raised no eyebrows to the tutored eye.

Prohibitions against public discussion of a "sporting event" were included, with a little definition tucked so that discussing a movie could be grounds for someone to be punished. Copyright terms were extended forever, and applied retroactively with copyright extended to all sorts of new items like broadcasts, fashion and copyrights. The fashion part was to be coordinated by the Bravo network.

Penalties for copyright violation were increased, with wiretapping and "enhanced interrogation techniques" authorized for tracking down miscreants.

And yet, reporters and lobbyists wanted to know who sponsored the bill, advocates got upset and called for action to stop this horrible bill that we described in a news release as "a tragedy wrapped in a travesty."

Later in the day, we put up a post explaining that as exaggerated as some of our made-up measures were, we put some real ones into the bill that fit right in. Our bill calls for mandatory filtering of the Internet to search for copyrighted material, mandatory copyright protections, allowing copyright holders to seize material and not be sued.

Why was the whole of the bill so reasonably believable? Because it's not so far from reality. It was wholly in line with what the movie and record industries push for every day up on Capitol Hill -- legislative favors to give them and their allies special power to protect their industry while at the same time taking the exact opposite stand against the use of governmental authority when it comes to protecting the public or preserving our rights.

Even though April 1 is passed, please, read the bill. Have a chuckle. And realize that what Congress is considering now isn't as far away as it seems.