Congress is back in session so it’s time to keep an eye on your fair use rights.

This time around they’re working on a new law which would direct the Justice Department to do the job now being done by lawyers for the RIAA and MPAA.

The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act of 2008 would allow the federal government to bring civil suits against people accused of “stealing” intellectual property.

The government also gets expanded powers to seize computers and other equipment and any damages they obtain will be turned over to big media, instead of going into the US treasury as usually happens when the feds win a case.

Another bonus is the creation of a “federal copyright czar” (with the accompanying bureaucracy) to run the whole show and be a liaison with countries where abuse of American copyright law is “rampant”.

I wonder which lobbyist for the media trade associations will get that plum position. You can bet it would never go to anyone with “consumer advocate” in their resume.

Fortunately, there are some groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge, fighting back.

In a letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, a coalition of library associations and consumer advocacy groups criticized the bill, warning that an “unbalanced approach to enforcement would lead to unintended harms” that could stifle innovation. The letter blasted the law’s civil enforcement provisions as an “enormous gift of federal resources to large copyright owners with no demonstration that the copyright owners are having difficulties enforcing their own rights.” It also raised privacy concerns about the legislation’s civil forfeiture language, noting that the seizure of servers or other large digital storage devices, often holding data belonging to multiple users, could compromise sensitive personal information.

Some changes to the law are being considered which, hopefully, will make it harder for the FBI to begin raiding the houses of grandmothers (or invading the countries) suspected of piracy.

But there’s still the question of whether our federal law enforcement agencies should be spending their time and money to take over for RIAA lawyers, who have done a pretty lousy job of proving their case.

Meanwhile, there are other intellectual property bills, written by big media and being pushed by their Congress critters, being considered.

Pay attention.