Copyright policies clash

WASHINGTON (04/01/2004) - Fans of file sharing may want to make a quick run for the Canadian border: While a Canadian court has rebuffed industry efforts to prosecute music swappers, a U.S. congressional committee has approved tougher penalties for such action.

Sharing copyrighted material is punishable by three to ten years in prison in a bill approved by a House judiciary subcommittee Thursday. The Piracy Deterrence and Education Act of 2004 goes next to the full Judiciary Committee for review. The committee could consider it within a month, according to a staff member.

The congressional action is in contrast to a Canadian federal court ruling that peer-to-peer file sharing is not illegal.

Tough Law Proposed

The proposed U.S. law would allow the imprisonment penalties for file sharing involving a total of more than US$1000 in copyrighted works within a three-month period. Those who release copyrighted material for commercial purposes, or release material previously unavailable to the public, are the most severely punished. As an example, someone who sneaks into a movie theater with a camera intending to record and sell the movie on the street faces the harshest hard time and the highest fines.

A main reason for the bill is to curb the increased occurrence of child pornography on peer-to-peer sharing, say subcommittee members.

The measure cites a General Accounting Office study that finds "when searching the most popular peer-to-peer service for keywords known to be associated with child pornography, 42 percent of the returns were associated with images of child pornography."

The Recording Industry of America, which is suing hundreds of file sharers for alleged copyright infringements, says the bill would protect consumers while providing "a strong signal that lawmakers recognize that viable filtering technology is available now, and that (peer-to-peer) businesses should prevent illegal activity to protect consumers."

But the public-interest advocacy group Public Knowledge cautions that "the new standard created by the subcommittee could criminalize what is now lawful use of copyrighted material."

The bill instructs law enforcement agencies, ISPs, and copyright owners to share information about acts of piracy with each other and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Public Knowledge opposes requiring information to be given to the FBI.

Canadian Ruling

While the House subcommittee was acting to restrict file sharing, Canadian Justice Konrad von Finckenstein ruled that sharing material for personal use doesn't violate Canadian copyright laws. Finckenstein is a former commissioner of competition at the Competition Bureau of Canada.

In the case, the Canadian Recording Industry Association sought to identify 29 users who had allegedly stolen copyright-protected music. The ISPs refused to turn over their customers' identities and other information.

The Canadian judge ruled not only for the 29 anonymous individuals, but in a broad decision also stated there is nothing illegal about peer-to-peer sharing.

The CRIA is expected to appeal the decision.

"In our view, the copyright law in Canada does not allow people to put hundreds or thousands of music files on the Internet for copying, transmission, and distribution to millions of strangers," CRIA General Counsel Richard Pfohl says in a statement.

Kumler writes for the Medill News Service.

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