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'Pirate' Bill Aims Law at Song Swappers

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_____Digital Rights_____
Online Movie Service To Debut (The Washington Post, Jun 14, 2004)
A Major Change In Their Tunes (The Washington Post, May 28, 2004)
Report: 'Tweens' Less Likely to Pirate (washingtonpost.com, May 26, 2004)
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Written by washingtonpost.com's tech policy team, the e-mail version of this weekly feature includes an original news article and links to policy and cyber-security stories from the previous week.
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By David McGuire
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 2004; 5:54 PM

Federal law enforcers would get more authority to prosecute people who illegally trade songs and other copyrighted material on the Internet under a bill introduced yesterday by a pair of powerful senators.

The Protecting Intellectual Rights Against Theft and Expropriation Act (PIRATE Act) would let the Justice Department file civil lawsuits against file swappers. Under current law, the department only can prosecute criminal offenses.

"For this reason prosecutors can rarely justify bringing criminal charges, and copyright owners have been left alone to fend for themselves, defending their rights only where they can afford to do so," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) who co-sponsored the bill with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). "In a world in which a computer and an Internet connection are all the tools you need to engage in massive piracy, this is an intolerable predicament."

The bill also would require the Justice Department to train federal prosecutors to deal with the "difficult technical and strategic problems posed by enforcing copyright law in the digital age," said Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

There are millions of people trading music online in the United States, a trend driven to some extent by an escalating demand for lower compact disc prices as well as the easy availability of free items online. A Harris Interactive poll released in late January found that three out of four adult Americans think that downloading music from the Internet without paying for it is acceptable as long as it is for their personal use.

This has contributed to a dip in retail music sales, which dropped 4.3 percent in 2003 and almost 7 percent in 2002, according to statistics released earlier this month by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The industry has lost as much as $5 billion in sales worldwide in the last three years, at least some of that because of music piracy. RIAA chief executive Mitch Bainwol this month said that sales figures are stabilizing as legitimate download sites find firmer footing.

The RIAA has taken the lead in civil prosecutions to cut down on music piracy, suing more than a thousand people it accused of trading copyrighted music on popular peer-to-peer file-sharing networks like Morpheus and Kazaa.

RIAA President Cary Sherman said the lawsuits are a vital deterrent to online music piracy.

"When we see the impact our lawsuits have had on the general public's behavior, I can only imagine that a Department of Justice prosecution would have even more of a deterrent impact," Sherman said. "This is a very effective way of giving the government an additional tool to combat piracy."

Fred von Lohmann, a senior staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Congress should be leery about pushing the Justice Department to fight the entertainment industry's battles.

"Copyright owners and the entertainment industry in particular have been frustrated that the [Justice Department] hasn't been willing to take this on," von Lohmann said.

He said that the legislation is the latest in a string of industry-backed proposals to broaden the government's copyright enforcement power. "Every one of these proposals has been at the behest of the industry, not at the behest of the DOJ."

The Justice Department did not ask for the authority that the legislation provides, said Senate Judiciary Committee spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller declined to comment.

If such a bill passed, the Justice Department could be forced to join the fray, von Lohmann predicted. "Once that power is there, the pressure on them to actually use it will become all the more intense. The drumbeat here is that the entertainment industry would really appreciate it if the DOJ would do their dirty work for them."


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