'Pirate Act' raises civil rights concerns

File swappers concerned about getting in trouble with record labels over illegal downloads may soon have a major new worry: the U.S. Department of Justice. A proposal that the Senate may vote on as early as next week would let federal prosecutors file civil lawsuits against suspected copyright infringers, with fines reaching tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The so-called Pirate Act is raising alarms among copyright lawyers and lobbyists for peer-to-peer firms, who have been eyeing the recording industry's lawsuits against thousands of peer-to-peer users with trepidation. The Justice Department, they say, could be far more ambitious.

One influential proponent of the Pirate Act is urging precisely that. "Tens of thousands of continuing civil enforcement actions might be needed to generate the necessary deterrence," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said when announcing his support for the bill. "I doubt that any nongovernmental organization has the resources or moral authority to pursue such a campaign." The Pirate Act represents the latest legislative priority for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and its allies, who collectively argue that dramatic action is necessary to prevent file-swapping networks from continuing to blossom in popularity. "We view this as a key component of an enforcement package," RIAA lobbyist Mitch Glazier said Tuesday. "If you're going to try to make sure that you have effective deterrence, then one of the tools you'll need is to make sure that prosecutors have flexibility."

News source: ZDNet.com

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