[FoRK] 'Pirate Act' raises civil rights concerns

Lucas Gonze lgonze at panix.com
Wed May 26 08:39:36 PDT 2004

Last week, the Pirate Act had been considered for a floor vote under a
process normally restricted for noncontroversial measures. But the vote
didn't happen, which one foe of the bill attributed to opposition from
Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota.

If you are against the Pirate Act, you should help cashdot Norm
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On Wed, 26 May 2004, Contempt for Meatheads wrote:

> The best gov't money can buy...
> --
> 'Pirate Act' raises civil rights concerns
> By Declan McCullagh
> Staff Writer, CNET News.com
> http://news.com.com/2100-1027-5220480.html
> Story last modified May 26, 2004, 4:00 AM PDT
> File swappers concerned about getting in trouble with record labels
> over illegal downloads may soon have a major new worry: the U.S.
> Department of Justice.
> A proposal that the Senate may vote on as early as next week 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 is raising alarms among copyright lawyers and
> lobbyists for peer-to-peer firms, who have been eyeing the recording
> industry's lawsuits against thousands of peer-to-peer users with
> trepidation. The Justice Department, they say, could be far more
> ambitious.
> News.context
> What's new:
> A proposal that the full Senate could vote on as early as next week
> would let federal prosecutors file civil lawsuits against suspected
> copyright infringers.
> Bottom line:
> Copyright lawyers and lobbyists for peer-to-peer companies, who have
> been eyeing the recording industry's lawsuits against peer-to-peer
> users with trepidation, warn that the Justice Department could be far
> more ambitious.
> More stories on this topic
> One influential proponent of the Pirate Act is urging precisely that.
> "Tens of thousands of continuing civil enforcement actions might be
> needed to generate the necessary deterrence," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah,
> 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."
> The Pirate Act represents the latest legislative priority for the
> Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and its allies, who
> collectively argue that dramatic action is necessary to prevent
> file-swapping networks from continuing to blossom in popularity.
> "We view this as a key component of an enforcement package," RIAA
> lobbyist Mitch Glazier said Tuesday. "If you're going to try to make
> sure that you have effective deterrence, then one of the tools you'll
> need is to make sure that prosecutors have flexibility."
> Foes of the Pirate Act have been alarmed by the unusual alacrity of the
> proposal's legislative progress. It was introduced just two months ago,
> on March 25, and not one hearing was held before the Judiciary
> committee forwarded it to the full Senate for a vote a month later.
> "This was an attempt to move it in a stealthy manner," said Philip
> Corwin, a lobbyist for Sharman Networks, which operates the Kazaa
> network. "I can't imagine that (Hollywood lobbyist) Jack Valenti or
> (RIAA chairman) Mitch Bainwol really wants to come before Congress and
> give testimony saying, 'We can't afford to bring these lawsuits. That's
> why we want the taxpayer to pay for them.' I can't believe they want to
> do that in public."
> Potential P2P prosecutions
> Underlying the public jockeying over the Pirate Act is a classic
> political war of wills between the federal government's legislative and
> executive branches.
> Under a 1997 law called the No Electronic Theft Act, federal
> prosecutors can file criminal charges against peer-to-peer users who
> make a large number of songs available for download. A July 2002 letter
> from prominent congressmen to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft urged
> the prosecution of Americans who "allow mass copying from their
> computer over peer-to-peer networks."
> But not one peer-to-peer criminal prosecution has taken place in the
> United States. The Justice Department has indicated that it won't
> target peer-to-peer networks for two reasons: Imprisoning file-swapping
> teens on felony charges isn't the department's top priority, and it's
> always difficult to make criminal charges stick.
> The Pirate Act was crafted to respond to the Justice Department's
> concern. "Federal prosecutors have been hindered in their pursuit of
> pirates by the fact that they were limited to bringing criminal charges
> with high burdens of proof," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in March.
> "Prosecutors can rarely justify bringing criminal charges, and
> copyright owners have been left alone to fend for themselves, defending
> their rights only where they can afford to do so. In a world in which a
> computer and an Internet connection are all the tools you need to
> engage in massive piracy, this is an intolerable predicament."
> The RIAA's Glazier said: "The idea was to give prosecutors the
> flexibility to decide whether to bring a civil case against somebody.
> Giving them a criminal fine with a criminal record was viewed as a
> fairly harsh penalty for the activity...You're still committing a
> crime. But (prosecutors) are given a flexible remedy so there's some
> proportionality."
> For copyright holders, there's an additional bonus. Unlike when the
> RIAA files its own lawsuits against peer-to-peer users, such as the 493
> defendants it announced this week, the Justice Department likely would
> be able to seek wiretaps to collect evidence about P2P infringement.
> Current wiretap law says electronic communications may be intercepted
> when a potential federal felony is being investigated.
> "Corporate copyright welfare"
> In addition, the Pirate Act gives Ashcroft six months to "develop a
> program to ensure effective implementation and use of the authority for
> civil enforcement of the copyright laws" and report back to Congress on
> how many civil lawsuits have been filed. The Justice Department would
> receive an extra $2 million for the fiscal year beginning in October.
> "It represents yet another point in another very long line of major
> corporate copyright interests pushing for and receiving what amounts to
> significant corporate welfare," said Adam Eisgrau, a lobbyist for the
> P2P United trade association. "This legislation literally offloads the
> cost of enforcing copyrights traditionally borne by the copyright
> holder onto the federal government and therefore the taxpayers."
> Last week, the Pirate Act had been considered for a floor vote under a
> process normally restricted for noncontroversial measures. But the vote
> didn't happen, which one foe of the bill attributed to opposition from
> Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota.
> Coleman has slammed the RIAA in the past for going too far in its
> fierce legal campaign against individual file swappers. A
> representative was unable to confirm Tuesday whether Coleman had placed
> a "hold" on the bill.
> Critics also charge that the Pirate Act may invent a form of double
> jeopardy: It would let the RIAA sue the same people already sued by the
> Justice Department.
> "The kinds of things we have a double-jeopardy doctrine to prevent seem
> to be implicated by the bill," said Jessica Litman, author of "Digital
> Copyright" and a law professor at Wayne State University. "I find it
> disturbing that the committee reported this out without at least having
> a hearing to consider some of the alternatives."
> The RIAA points out that the bill does limit damages it can collect in
> a subsequent lawsuit, but opponents of the proposal said they weren't
> convinced.
> "Why should someone be sued by the government and then be subject to a
> second lawsuit brought by a private party?" said Corwin, the Sharman
> Networks lobbyist. "The RIAA is settling most of these lawsuits. What's
> the Justice Department's policy going to be?"
>      * Related News Senate to mull copyright, piracy measures  April 30,
> 2004
>        http://news.com.com/2110-1028-5203059.html
>      * RIAA files new round of file-swapping suits  April 28, 2004
>        http://news.com.com/2100-1027-5201637.html
>      * Judge: File sharing legal in Canada  March 31, 2004
>        http://news.com.com/2100-1027-5182641.html
>      * Landmark P2P ruling back in court  February 2, 2004
>        http://news.com.com/2100-1027-5152269.html
>      * Lawmaker seeks info on RIAA dragnet  July 31, 2003
>        http://news.com.com/2100-1027-5058594.html
>      * Perspective: The new jailbird jingle  January 27, 2003
>        http://news.com.com/2010-1071-982121.html
>      * Get this story's "Big Picture"
>        http://news.com.com/2104-1027-5220480.html
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