This week in entertainment

The Internet appears to be ready for its close-up, but you may want to decline any invitations to join a prerelease party.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
2 min read
The Internet appears to be ready for its close-up, but you may want to decline any invitations to join a prerelease party.

A file swapper who distributes a single copy of a prerelease movie on the Internet would face a possible prison sentence of up to three years, if a bill approved this week by Congress becomes law, as expected. Adoption of the bill would represent the most dramatic expansion of online piracy penalties in years.

The bill is written so broadly that, if passed into law, it could make a felon of anyone who has even one copy of a film, software program or music file in a shared folder and who should have known the copyrighted work had not been commercially released. Fines of up to $250,000 could also be levied. Penalties could apply regardless of whether any downloading took place.

If signed into law, the bill would significantly lower the bar for online copyright prosecutions. Current law allows criminal penalties of up to three years in prison for "the reproduction or distribution of 10 or more copies or phonorecords of one or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of $2,500 or more."

But there is still plenty from the silver screen available on the PC screen. The Net is becoming a popular medium for amateur filmmakers to show off an increasingly popular genre called "fan films." One of the more technically sophisticated is "Star Wars: Revelations." With its audience primed by anticipation of the new Star Wars movie, slated for release May 19, the film is sweeping the Net as fast as any X-wing.

The movie is part of a broader online culture in which big-screen commercial works are grist for a small-screen creative mill, and onetime audience members are taking over the tools of production. Indeed, this community of fan creators is increasingly the subject of study by academics--not to mention marketing departments--seeking clues to tomorrow's trends.

Meanwhile, Verizon Communications launched a movie download service for broadband customers through a partnership with Movielink. The rentals are available to customers of Verizon Online's digital subscriber line and Fios Internet service, the carrier said. These customers can choose from a selection of titles on Movielink's video-on-demand service.

The downloaded movies can be stored on a hard drive for up to 30 days, Verizon said. People can watch a rented film as often as they want in a 24-hour period. The files can be viewed on a PC, on a television connected to the PC, or on a laptop computer--the system does not have to be online. Thirty days after downloading, the movie files are automatically deleted, Verizon said.