Congressmen Introduce Bill To Make File Sharing A Felony

Act would also make it a federal offense to give false information when registering domain names.

Weapons possession, drug smuggling, murder — these are all considered serious crimes. But file sharing? If a couple of congressmen have their way, that could land you in jail as well.

A bill introduced by senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee attempts to deter online music copying by making it a felony. Under current law, you'd have to distribute 10 authorized copies of a work with a retail value of more than $2,500 to make it a felony.

But HR 2752, otherwise known as the Author, Consumer & Computer Owner Protection and Security Act of 2003, would make it a crime to upload even one copyrighted work to a publicly accessible Web site or file-sharing network, since the bill operates under the assumption that each uploaded file gets copied at least 10 times. The penalties for felony copyright violation vary, but offenders could face a five-year prison term and a fine of up to $250,000.

The anti-piracy legislation also proposes to make it a federal offense to provide false information when registering domain names, and it preempts anti-camcorder state laws in New York and Pennsylvania to make using a camcorder to tape a movie a federal misdemeanor.

The legislation — which was sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, along with Howard Berman, D-Calif.; Martin Meehan, D-Mass.; Robert Wexler, D-Fla.; Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.; and Adam Schiff, D-Calif. — would also give law enforcement additional appropriations upward of $15 million to fight copyright crime and would require distributors of file-sharing software to alert users that downloading file-sharing software might create privacy and security risks.

"Digital piracy is one of the biggest problems facing creators of copyrighted content," Conyers said in a statement. "Even though artists, authors, actors, movie companies, software developers, publishers and record studios create this country's number one export, they are suffering because people are taking advantage of technology to share and obtain their valuable content for free. ... While existing laws have been useful in stemming this problem, they simply do not go far enough."

Conyers cited the International Intellectual Property Alliance's "Copyright Industries in the U.S. Economy" 2002 report, which found that copyrighted content achieved foreign sales and exports of $88.97 billion, to prove his point that it was a valuable resource in need of more protection.

"Despite court decisions ordering various file-swapping sites to shut down, new file-swapping programs and new file-swapping sites appear every day on the Internet, each one better than its predecessor," Conyers said while introducing the legislation. "These sites do not develop their own content; instead, they rely upon the success and popularity of content created by others and allow that content to be distributed to millions with the single click of a mouse."

For complete digital music coverage, check out the Digital Music Reports.