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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2003

Online piracy bill sets threshold at one posted song

By Jon Healey
Los Angeles Times

CDs can blow your budget if you buy the whole works for just one must-get song. But online copying could get messy.

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To some music lovers, paying $18 for a CD with only one good song is a crime.

To some members of Congress, letting people copy a song online without paying for it should be a felony.

A new bill by senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee would make it easier for federal prosecutors to bring felony charges against people who offer at least one song, movie or other digital file on Kazaa or other public computer network.

The proposal by Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Howard Berman, D-Calif., with four other Democrats as co-sponsors, also would make it a crime to record movies as they're being displayed in a theater and to register a Web site under a false name.

Berman said the point is to give federal prosecutors the means and the incentive "to start enforcing these laws, and to gain what I think will be the substantial deterrent benefits of some highly publicized prosecutions in these areas."

The possible penalties for a felony copyright violation vary, but even a first offender could face a five-year prison term.

Lobbyists for the recording industry and Hollywood studios, who often find allies in Conyers and Berman, praised the measure. They argued that the provision on file-sharing wasn't a change in the law so much as a clarification of the existing standards for a copyright felony.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for online civil liberties and technology, disagreed.

"If this is an attempt to clarify existing law, it goes way overboard," said Jason Schultz, an attorney for the foundation.

"I think it's an attempt to criminalize the use of computer networks."

Online piracy has skyrocketed in the past four years, yet federal prosecutors have been reluctant to take on file-sharing cases — a point of great frustration for the record companies and studios. The bills by Conyers and Berman are intended to remove some of the legal hurdles to bringing cases against file-sharers and provide money for enforcement.

Under current law, distributing 10 unauthorized copies of a work with a retail value of more than $2,500 is a felony — provided prosecutors can show the distribution was done deliberately and with an intent to violate copyrights. The Conyers-Berman bill says making available one or more works for others to copy would be equivalent to distributing 10 unauthorized copies worth moe than $2,500.

"When someone makes available to 300 million people a new movie ... , I think it's a pretty fair assumption that at least 10 copies are going to be downloaded," said Fritz Attaway of the Motion Picture Association of America. "And when somebody does that, that's grand theft."