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US seeks to criminalize 'attempted' piracy

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The US Department of Justice is proposing stiffer penalties for software copyright violators, such as the criminalization of "attempted" piracy and foregoing the necessity of patent registration before prosecution.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales submitted the "Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007" to the coalition against counterfeiting and piracy of the US Chamber of Commerce, Monday. The chamber is the largest business lobby group in the US, representing more than three million business groups.

"These crimes, as we all know, also have a direct impact on our economy, costing victims millions of dollars and, if left unchecked, diminishing entrepreneurship," Gonzales said.

You can read a PDF version of the proposal here, but we'll provide the highlights:

Do not want

The DoJ wants to create a new Federal offense for "attempting to commit" criminal copyright infringement.

"It is a general tenet of the criminal law that those who attempt to commit a crime but do not complete it are as morally culpable as those who succeed in doing so," the proposal states.

In a press conference call today, a senior Justice Department official gave the example of finding a warehouse of DVDs but not being able to prove necessarily that they were actually distributed or sold. In this case, they would be able to charge those involved with attempted copyright infringement.

There appears to be nothing, however, concerning the breadth of such prosecution.

Copyright registration a "formality"

Current law provides that a person cannot be held liable for copyright infringement until the copyright claim has been registered. The DoJ proposes this law is amended so the rule only applies to civil infringement and not criminal prosecutions.

"Registration is an administrative formality," the proposal states, "and although this formality has — and should have — certain consequences in civil cases, it should not in criminal cases."

US copyright law identifies criminal infringement as any person who infringes a copyright willfully for commercial or private financial gain, or distributes one or more copies of copyrighted works which have a retail value of more than $1,000.

Doing life for Runaway Bride

The maximum penalty for counterfeiting offenses which endanger public health or safety would be increased to 10 to 20 years imprisonment if the defendant knowingly or recklessly attempts or causes serious bodily injury. A counterfeiter can be charged with life imprisonment if they knowingly attempt or cause death.

The department claims this change would be largely aimed at violations such as counterfeit pharmaceuticals — but who knows — anyone who has suffered through a pirated version of Spiderman 3 just might have a case.

DMCA upgrade

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act would be amended to allow the seizing of property used in copyright violations and of property bought or received from pirating proceeds. When a person is convicted of violating the DMCA, the court would be required to order that person to pay restitution to any copyright owner whose rights were violated.

Can you hear me now?

The proposal would add intellectual property crimes to the offenses which allow law enforcement to intercept wire or oral communications for investigation.

This adds software piracy to the long list of reasons the government wants to wiretap you.

Gonzales said the Justice Department has convicted 57 per cent more defendants for criminal copyright offenses in 2006 over the previous year. Prison terms of over two years have increased 130 per cent over the same period. ®

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