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Gonzales: It's time to punish 'attempted' piracy

U.S. attorney general makes another pitch for a dramatic new rewrite of criminal copyright laws.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales created quite a stir last month when he called for an aggressive rewrite of criminal copyright laws, including prison time for "attempted" copyright infringement, life behind bars for pirated software use, and more expansive wiretap authority in piracy investigations.

If anyone doubted his seriousness about that dramatic plan, look no further than the text of a speech the official delivered in Seattle on Wednesday.

"IP (intellectual property) theft is not a technicality, and its victims are not just faceless corporations--it is stealing, and it affects us all," Gonzales said, according to those prepared remarks, at an intellectual property event sponsored by the lobby group TechNet. "Those who seek to undermine this cornerstone of U.S. economic competitiveness believe that they are making easy money; that they are beyond the law. It is our responsibility and commitment to show them that they are wrong."

Urging the necessity of keeping the nation's copyright laws "up to date," he pointed specifically to the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007 (PDF), which was drawn up by his department and submitted to Congress in May.

In addition to the provisions mentioned above, that bill would allow more ready seizure of computers and other assets used to commit copyright crimes, punish certain "intended" copyright crimes, and require Homeland Security to alert the Recording Industry Association of America about attempts at importing "unauthorized fixations of the sounds, or sounds and images, of a live musical performance."

For a more detailed rundown of the additional penalties, crimes, and forfeiture of assets the Justice Department is backing, here's a handy list we prepared last month.

Although the Democratic-controlled Congress includes its fair share of copyright hawks, the attorney general hasn't been winning any popularity contests lately with the body as a whole lately, so the bill's prospects remain uncertain.

Update: A spokeswoman for Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who heads the intellectual property panel that would handle such a proposal, said her boss is far more focused, at least for the time being, on bills dealing with patent system changes and immigration.