U.S. Senate approves antipiracy bill

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill allowing the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), in addition to copyright holders, to file civil lawsuits against alleged copyright pirates, over the objections of peer-to-peer (P-to-P) software vendors.

The Protecting Intellectual Rights Against Theft and Expropriation (PIRATE) Act of 2004, passed by voice vote Friday, would allow the DOJ to sue alleged copyright infringers, in addition to the civil lawsuits now brought by copyright holders such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The PIRATE Act, sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, budgets US$2 million for fiscal year 2005 toward DOJ civil lawsuits against copyright violators.

The bill, which has to be passed by the House and signed by President George Bush to become law, has drawn opposition from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and other groups. "The PIRATE Act is yet another attempt to make taxpayers fund the misguided war on file sharing, and it's moving fast," the EFF's Web site says."It would also force the American public to pay the legal bills of foreign record companies ... Meanwhile, not a penny from the lawsuits goes to the artists."

The RIAA, in a statement Friday, praised the passage of the bill, which was introduced in March and moved to the Senate floor without a hearing. The Senate on Friday also passed the Artists' Rights and Theft Prevention Act, called the ART Act, which creates criminal penalties for videotaping movies in theaters and creates civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized distribution of commercial copyrighted works before they're released to the public.

"I commend the passage of these common sense proposals that offer flexibility in the enforcement against serious crimes that damage thousands of hardworking artists, songwriters and all those who help bring music to the public," Mitch Bainwol, RIAA chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "These acts will provide federal prosecutors with the flexibility and discretion to bring copyright infringement cases that best correspond to the nature of the crime, and will assure that valuable works that are pirated before their public release date are protected."

P2P United, a trade group representing P-to-P software vendors, called for Congress to bring all stakeholders in the copyright debate together to solve the problem, instead of passing legislation like the PIRATE Act. The recording industry needs to find a way to turn the 60 million U.S. residents who have used file-sharing software into customers, instead of regarding them as criminals, said Adam Eisgrau, executive director of P2P United.

"The continued offloading onto the taxpayer of the cost of enforcing ever more draconian copyright penalties perpetrated by the PIRATE Act does nothing to compensate artists or copyright conglomerates for the peer-to-peer distribution of their work," Eisgrau said. "What it does do is force the Department of Justice into serving as free outside counsel for Hollywood and the recording industry in the same kind of private suits for damages that these conglomerates previously have been required to bring on their own dime."

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