Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and John Cornyn, R-Tex., introduced a bill this week to strengthen federal government efforts to combat copyright infringement and counterfeiting.

The Intellectual Property Enforcement Act would give civil copyright enforcement powers to the Attorney General and the Department of Justice. Currently, civil actions are initiated by rights holders, like record labels, while criminal enforcement is within the government's domain.

The bill would authorize additional funding to investigate and prosecute intellectual property crimes involving computers and the Internet. It would also require the FBI to assign a minimum of 10 agents to work on intellectual property crimes, and to classify both the importation and exportation of pirated works as infringement.

Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has indicated that improving enforcement is a central component of his intellectual property agenda this year.

"Copyright infringement silently drains America's economy and undermines the talent, creativity and initiative that are a great source of strength to our nation," Leahy said in a statement. "When we protect intellectual property from copyright infringement, we protect our economy and our ideas. I'm pleased to join with Senator Cornyn as we launch our examination of how we can better protect those ideas and products from illegal piracy, infringement and theft."

Added Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary Committee: "Our bill gives the law enforcement community the additional tools needed to meet the growing threat to America's innovation economy posed by intellectual property pirates and counterfeiters."

A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the House.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday also heard from a panel of government witnesses who testified about federal enforcement efforts. Witnesses included Kevin O'Connor, chairman of the Justice Department's Intellectual Property Task Force, and Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., who earlier this year introduced legislation with Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, to restructure the current inter-agency intellectual property enforcement structure.

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