Senate OKs antipiracy plan

Pirate Act would let feds sue suspected pirates--raising worries about an onslaught of legal action against file swappers.

The U.S. Senate on Friday overwhelmingly approved a controversial proposal that 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 has raised alarms among copyright lawyers and lobbyists for peer-to-peer companies, who have been eyeing the recording industry's lawsuits against thousands of peer-to-peer users with trepidation. They worry that the Department of Justice could be even more ambitious.

Senate leaders scheduled Friday's vote under a procedure that required the unanimous consent of all members present. Now the Pirate Act, along with a related bill that criminalizes using camcorders in movie theaters, will be forwarded to the House of Representatives for approval.

"These acts will provide federal prosecutors with the flexibility and discretion to bring copyright infringement cases that best correspond to the nature of the crime and will assure that valuable works that are pirated before their public release date are protected," said Mitch Bainwol, chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America. Counting a new round of lawsuits filed this week, the RIAA has sued 3,429 people so far.

Friday's unanimous vote represents a key legislative victory for the entertainment industry, which has been lobbying fiercely for ways to halt the ever-growing popularity of file-swapping networks. Their reasoning: If civil lawsuits brought by the music industry haven't been enough of a deterrence, perhaps federal suits brought by the Justice Department will be.

One influential backer of the Pirate Act has been urging an avalanche of civil suits. "Tens of thousands of continuing civil enforcement actions might be needed to generate the necessary deterrence," Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, 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."

"This turns the Department of Justice into a civil law firm for the industry's benefit," said Adam Eisgrau, the executive director of P2P United. Its members include BearShare, Blubster, Grokster, Morpehus and eDonkey.

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About the author

Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.

 

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