In the aftermath of the $222,000 jury verdict that the Recording Industry Association of America recently won against a Minnesota woman who shared 24 songs on Kazaa, the U.S. Congress is preparing to amend copyright law.
Politicians want to increase penalties for copyright infringement.
It’s no joke. Top Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday introduced a sweeping 69-page bill that ratchets up civil penalties for copyright infringement, boosts criminal enforcement, and even creates a new federal agency charged with bringing about a national and international copyright crackdown.
“By providing additional resources for enforcement of intellectual property, we ensure that innovation and creativity will continue to prosper in our society,” Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich) said in a statement.
Here are some of the major sections of the PRO IP Act:
* Fines in copyright cases dealing with compilations would be increased. Right now, as in the case of Xoom v. Imageline, the maximum penalty for infringement of one compilation is $30,000. Now courts would be able to make “multiple awards of statutory damages” when compilations are infringed.
* Maximum penalties for repeat copyright offenders would be easier to obtain. Current law says that anyone who “willfully” infringes a copyright by distributing over $1,000 worth of material (including over a peer-to-peer network) is a criminal. The PRO IP Act keeps the 10-year prison term intact for felonious repeat offenders–but, crucially, deletes the requirement that repeat offenders must have distributed at least 10 copyrighted works within 180 days.
* Any computer or network hardware used to “facilitate” a copyright crime could be seized by the Justice Department and auctioned off. The proceeds would be funneled to the agency’s budget. The process is called civil asset forfeiture, and typically the owner does not need to be found guilty of a crime for his property to be taken.
The only “innovation and creativity” I see prospering is that of the new police department when in need of funding: come up with a new way to “facilitate” a “copyright crime” and start impounding random computers and sell them. Or, if computers are too cheap, simply find two persons downloading an mp3 song, and confiscate every router, network switch, and fiber cable connecting them together. Of course that will shut down most ISP’s, but that’s a bonus: it prevents others from downloading the same song!