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Senate Backs 2 Measures to Battle Piracy

One bill would stiffen penalties; the other would allow prosecutors to file civil lawsuits.

June 26, 2004|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed two bills Friday that would carve out a larger role for law enforcement in the entertainment industry's struggle to limit unauthorized copying of its movies and music.

People who videotape movies when they are shown in theaters could face prison time under a bill co-sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. Hackers and industry insiders who distribute copyrighted works before their official release date would face stiffened penalties.

A separate measure sponsored by Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont would allow prosecutors to file civil lawsuits in copyright cases instead of criminal lawsuits, which require a higher standard of proof.

Copies of hit movies frequently show up on the Internet while they're still in theaters because pirates tape films directly off the screen or industry insiders leak copies to tech-savvy hackers.

Under the Cornyn-Feinstein bill, those found guilty of such behavior would face as many as three years in prison for a first offense; five years if it was done for profit. Repeat offenders could spend 10 years behind bars. Movie studios and other copyright holders would be able to sue for damages.

Leahy's bill would let the Justice Department use the same legal tactics as the recording industry. In criminal cases, prosecutors must prove defendants knew they were breaking the law; in civil cases the only proof required is that the act took place.

The Recording Industry Assn. of America said both bills would allow more options to help enforce copyrights.

An official with a trade group for peer-to-peer networks was less enthusiastic.

"They're using federal prosecutors as a civil law firm for Hollywood," said Adam Eisgrau, executive director of P2P United.

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