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New bill injects FBI into P2P battle

A bill introduced in Congress would put federal agents in the business of investigating and prosecuting copyright violations, including online swapping of copyrighted works.

A bill introduced in Congress on Thursday would put federal agents in the business of investigating and prosecuting copyright violations, including online swapping of copyrighted works.

HR-2517, the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act of 2003, instructs the FBI to develop a program to deter online traffic of copyrighted material. The bureau would also develop a warning, with the FBI seal, that copyright holders could issue to suspected violators. And the bureau would encourage sharing of information on suspected copyright violations among law enforcement, copyright owners and ISPs (Internet service providers).

The bill bears the names of two legislators who have been prominent on intellectual property and copyright issues--Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Howard Berman, D-Calif. Berman gained attention last year with a bill that would have allowed copyright holders to hack into peer-to-peer networks believed to be distributing protected materials.

The new bill also calls for the Department of Justice to hire agents trained to deal with computer hacking and intellectual-property issues, and it requires the Attorney General, in conjunction with the departments of Education and Commerce, to develop programs to educate the public on copyright issues.

A lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation said the bill includes a number of troubling aspects, particularly the blurring of distinctions between official prosecution of criminal acts and civil enforcement of copyright provisions.

"It's doing a bunch of things to get the FBI more involved with private enforcement of intellectual-property rights," said Wendy Seltzer, staff attorney for the EFF. "It gives them a chance to scare a lot of users into thinking the government is after them."

Seltzer said the provision for ISPs to cooperate with police and copyright holders is particularly troubling from a privacy standpoint. "That would probably authorize them to tell ISPs, 'You also need to give information on users to the RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America) whenever they ask,'" she said.

The RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America applauded the bill. "The Smith-Berman legislation will strengthen the hand of the FBI and other federal law enforcement officials to address the rampant copyright infringement occurring on peer-to-peer networks," Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, said in a statement. "This common sense, bipartisan bill will help ensure that federal prosecutors across the country have the resources and expertise to fully enforce the copyright laws on the books--especially against those who illegally distribute massive quantities of copyrighted music online."

The bill comes just days after Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, raised alarm by suggesting that copyright holders should be allowed to remotely destroy the PCs of music pirates.