The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved two major intellectual property piracy bills today (April 29). Both will soon be scheduled for votes on the Senate floor.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved two major intellectual property piracy bills today (April 29). Both will soon be scheduled for votes on the Senate floor.

The "Artists Rights and Theft Prevention Act" (ART), S. 1932, co-sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.), is aimed at fighting copyright piracy of "pre-release" entertainment products.

The Cornyn-Feinstein ART act would create a federal law banning the use of camcorders and other recording devices in movie theaters. It also would amend the provisions in the 1997 No Electronic Theft Act to define posting pre-release products on peer-to-peer networks as felony copyright infringement.

The bill would also heighten the penalties for the most egregious distributors of pre-release materials by instituting possible jail terms of up to three years for a first violation and up to 10 years for second-strike offenders profiting from the violations. The ART act would also allow copyright owners to recover damages from individuals who illegally distribute pre-release materials.

The "Protecting Intellectual Rights Against Theft and Expropriation Act" (PIRATE) -- authored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democratic member of the Committee, and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the panel's chairman -- would allow the Department of Justice to file civil copyright infringement cases.

Under current law, the U.S. attorney general can only bring criminal copyright cases, which can be difficult to prosecute because they require a higher standard of proof. The PIRATE bill would allow the attorney general to file civil claims that could include damages and restitution without criminal penalties.

In other anti-piracy news, Mitch Bainwol, chairman/CEO of the RIAA, testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee today, calling for a stronger, higher-profile presence at the Department of State. He also called for the creation of a new post, ambassador for intellectual property, and a stand-alone international agency for intellectual property trade issues that would bolster the efforts of the U.S. Trade Representative.