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Piracy to be a Federal Crime?

Online file sharing that could lead to piracy could also lead to federal punishment, if a new bill passes. The Intellectual Property Enforcement Bill of 2007 was introduced last week by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX). The proposed bill would amend the Trademark Act of 1946.

Among the bill’s provisions (emphasis added):

Sec. 3. Improved Investigative and Forensic Resources for Enforcement of Laws Related to Intellectual Property Crimes. Requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation to dedicate a minimum of 10 agents to work with the Department of Justice on intellectual property crimes. Also requires the assignment of one agent located in Budapest and one agent located in Hong Kong, “to assist in the coordination of enforcement of intellectual property laws between the United States and foreign nations.”

Finally, the section requires implementation of a comprehensive training program focused on intellectual property crimes, and the formation of an Organized Crime Task Force with directions to study organized crime relating to intellectual property theft. [Look out, folks, the mob is stealing songs now, too!] $12 million is authored for each of fiscal years 2007 through 2011.

Section 4. Additional Funding For Resources to Investigate and Prosecute Criminal Activity Involving Computers. Authorizes an additional $10 million for the FBI and DOJ to hire and train additional agents and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute criminals for intellectual property crimes.

Now there’s a government contract I’d bid on: $10m to say, “This is BitTorrent. Let’s see which files here should be copyrighted.”

As always, I’ll close with a quick civics lesson:

  • The bill has been read into the record and committed to the proper committee (Judiciary, in this case).
  • In committee it will be discussed, hacked to death amended and voted upon.
  • If the committee comes up with a final version that they like, they recommend it to the whole house. It goes on the calendar to be voted upon.
  • If it passes, the bill must go to the House of Representatives, where we repeat steps 1-3 (if Congress hasn’t already adjourned).
  • If it passes the House and the House’s version of the bill is different from the Senate’s, and the Senate doesn’t like the House’s version, they go to a conference committee, composed of representatives and senators, to work out their differences. The House and the Senate vote again on the final version from this committee.
  • Assuming it’s survived this far, it’s ready for the President to sign, veto or pocket veto. If he signs it, or if he neglects to veto it within a deadline (set within the bill itself), the bill becomes a law. It’s all grown up.

As you can see, we have a long way to go before you should start worrying about canceling your P2P accounts. (Unless the RIAA gets you, then it’s too late.)


Clarification: While the bill does seek changes to define “Criminal Infringement” in the Trademark Act, this is mostly for civil actions.


  1. [...] The increased variety of movies and music has also drastically increased thanks to so many tools that allow almost anyone to create their own music and home videos.  Songs and videos that are created by the professional are also hit hard by variety. Songs that are hits now would not have even made the list a few decades ago because people are listening to various genres and subgenres that seem to develop almost everyday.  Also a factor of the lack of hits is the increase of piracy among citizens.  Before albums are released, they are often available through various online sites, which definitely hurts record sales.  Lawmakers are actually working to make piracy a Federal crime. [...]