Gonzales proposes new crime: ‘Attempted’ copyright infringement


Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is pressing the U.S. Congress to enact a sweeping intellectual-property bill that would increase criminal penalties for copyright infringement, including “attempts” to commit piracy.

“To meet the global challenges of IP crime, our criminal laws must be kept updated,” Gonzales said during a speech before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on Monday.

The Bush administration is throwing its support behind a proposal called the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007, which is likely to receive the enthusiastic support of the movie and music industries, and would represent the most dramatic rewrite of copyright law since a 2005 measure dealing with prerelease piracy.

The IPPA would, for instance:

* Criminalize “attempting” to infringe copyright. Federal law currently punishes not-for-profit copyright infringement with between 1 and 10 years in prison, but there has to be actual infringement that takes place. The IPPA would eliminate that requirement. (The Justice Department’s summary of the legislation says: “It is a general tenet of the criminal law that those who attempt to commit a crime but do not complete it are as morally culpable as those who succeed in doing so.”)

* Create a new crime of life imprisonment for using pirated software. Anyone using counterfeit products who “recklessly causes or attempts to cause death” can be imprisoned for life. During a conference call, Justice Department officials gave the example of a hospital using pirated software instead of paying for it.

* Permit more wiretaps for piracy investigations. Wiretaps would be authorized for investigations of Americans who are “attempting” to infringe copyrights.

* Allow computers to be seized more readily. Specifically, property such as a PC “intended to be used in any manner” to commit a copyright crime would be subject to forfeiture, including civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture has become popular among police agencies in drug cases as a way to gain additional revenue, and it is problematic and controversial.

* Add penalties for “intended” copyright crimes. Certain copyright crimes currently require someone to commit the “distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period of at least 10 copies” valued at more than $2,500. The IPPA would insert a new prohibition: actions that were “intended to consist of” distribution….