Congress got back together for a post-election lame-duck session yesterday, seeking to wrap up a mountain of unfinished business as quickly as possible. With billions of dollars at stake at the end of the year, lawmakers usually throw together Jupiter- and Saturn-sized omnibus appropriations bills stuffed with the language from smaller measures that never made their way to the White House.
One strong contender for inclusion is a small clutch of bills that strengthen copyright law protection for the entertainment industry in the face of increasing Internet piracy.
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As washingtonpost.com reported yesterday, the copyright package contains the text of a bill that would allow judges to impose sentences of up to five years in jail for music piracy. The package also would crack down on movie bootleggers who record films in theaters, then sell their far-from-top-quality products via Internet downloads and in black-market DVD bazaars all over the world.
Some organizations -- like copyright-law mavens Public Knowledge, the Consumer Electronics Association, the American Conservative Union and telecom giant-cum-Internet provider Verizon -- oppose the bill because they say that it could expose people to jail time if they have even one ripped file on their machines and happen to belong to a file-sharing network. But the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, predictably enough, support the bill, and note that its various aspects already have received positive reviews in Congress.
While it's uncertain whether Congress will pay any attention to the copyright package, that doesn't mean that music and movie sharers should be gearing up their Internet connections to download a little misappropriated entertainment. The MPAA yesterday said the seven major Hollywood movie studios are collaborating on a new mega-project with a working title of "Sue the Pirate."
The lawsuits, which could seek up to $150,000 in damages for each film illegally copied, were filed in federal court against hundreds of suspected pirates. They are part of the industry's plan to avoid the revenue flop that walloped the world's big recording companies when illegal song swapping really started to take off.
In addition to the lawsuits, the MPAA offers a free software tool that people can use to identify and delete all file-sharing programs and illegally copied movie and music files on their computers. The MPAA and the Video Software Dealers Association also plan to launch a public education campaign in mid-December that will show up in video stores, supermarkets and drugstores across the country warning of the consequences of movie piracy. The campaign, "Rated I: Inappropriate for All Ages," includes two 45-second videos that will play on television monitors in 10,000 of the nation's 24,000 video stores starting in December.
Blockbuster, which controls 34 percent of the video rental market (though it's shooting for a cool half with its proposed $1 billion acquisition of rival Hollywood Video), will run the trailers from Dec. 7 through March 28 in its 5,500 stores.
Robert MacMillan, washingtonpost.com Tech Policy Editor