Internet users who allow others to copy songs from their hard drives could face prison time under legislation introduced by two Democratic lawmakers yesterday (July 16). The House bill is the stronges

Internet users who allow others to copy songs from their hard drives could face prison time under legislation introduced by two Democratic lawmakers yesterday (July 16). The House bill is the strongest attempt yet to deter the widespread online song copying that record companies say has led to a major declines in CD sales.

Sponsored by Michigan Rep. John Conyers and California Rep. Howard Berman, the bill would make it easier to slap criminal charges on Internet users who copy music, movies and other copyrighted files over peer-to-peer networks.

The Recording Industry Association of America has aggressively pursued Napster, Kazaa and other peer-to-peer networks in court and recently announced it planned to sue individual users as well.

But few online copyright violators have faced criminal charges so far. A New Jersey man pleaded guilty to distributing a digital copy of the movie "The Hulk" in federal court three weeks ago, but the Justice Department has not taken action against Internet users who offer millions of copies of songs each day.

The Conyers-Berman bill would operate under the assumption that each copyrighted work made available through a computer network was copied by others at least 10 times for a total retail value of $2,500. That would bump the activity from a misdemeanor to a felony, carrying a sentence of up to five years in jail. It would also outlaw the practice of videotaping a movie in the theater, a favorite illicit method of copying movies.

"While existing laws have been useful in stemming this problem, they simply do not go far enough," said Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

One copyright expert said the bill paints online song-swapping with too broad a brush as much of that activity does not rise to a criminal level. "We don't think it should be the role of the FBI to treat all copyright infringement as criminal," said Mike Godwin, staff counsel at the non-profit group Public Sector.

A Conyers staffer said the bill had won the backing of many Democrats but Republicans had yet to endorse it. The staffer said backers hoped to discuss the bill at a hearing today and combine it next week with another sponsored by Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, who chairs an intellectual-property subcommittee.

"Once we have the opportunity to analyze the bill language we will be able to determine how it affects our fight against piracy," a Smith spokesperson said.


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