This is what one senior congressman is proposing to do about P2Ping. The mere act of making a copyrighted file available could get you up to five years.
The number of the bill is H.R. 2752, and it’s called the “Author, Consumer, and Computer Owner Protection and Security Act (ACCOPS).” You can see a copy of the bill here.
Please note that this bill just was introduced. It normally takes months for a bill to become a law, and only about 1% of bills proposed by legislators become law. It’s hardly OMG time.
The bill would put teeth into the No Electronic Theft Act of 1997 in the following ways:
1) Sometimes a law has more effect from what it takes out than what it puts in. The NET Act of 1997 said that a person had to willfully infringe the copyright, and added that mere evidence of reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work, by itself, wasn’t enough to establish willfulness.
In short, a prosecutor would have to show proof beyond the actual activity (like chat in a warez IRC) to show that you really meant to do this and you knew what you were doing.
This bill removes that phrase, so under this act, just showing a lot of “sharing” activity would probably be enough be sufficient to get you convicted, especially given item three, below.
This will make prosecutions much easier.
2) Law enforcement agencies would no longer have to prove that at least ten copies of a particular program were made, and that the retail value of it was at least $2,500. Just making any copyright program available for sharing will be liable for criminal prosecution.
3) All programs for any sort of P2P network and anyone offering them would have to give you the equivalent of the warning on a pack of cigarettes before downloading. It will have to say that using this software for illegal purposes will make you liable for criminal prosecution, and that to download it, the person must consent (and the provider keep a record of it). If they don’t, those that don’t can be fined or imprisoned.
So anybody making a P2P program like Kazaa or Freenet available via a website, FTP, etc., has to get that consent (and keep records of that consent) or they get arrested or fined.
4) The act provides for $15 million dollars to pay for law enforcement. Not a ton of money, but it will mean more prosecutions than are happening now.
When it comes to law enforcement of this nature, it’s very simple to see how serious the legislator is about it. All you have to do is find out one thing: Does the bill pay for this enforcement activity?
It’s very simple. All bureaucracies want more money. That way they can hire more people, have more higher-paid supervisors watching those people, upgrade their positions, etc. If you tell them, “Do this, too,” and don’t give them extra money, the attitude is “when I get to it, whenever.”
Say, “Do this, too, and here’s millions of dollars with which to do it,” and you get quite a different response.
Providing money to a bureaucracy for an activity also has another important effect. Once you get some money, your foot is in the door to get even more money for the activity later on. The law enforcement activity becomes a big fan of more activity in this area.
5) If you think you’ll just get by those P2P reporting requirements by providing false information to a domain register, once they catch up with you, that’s up to five years in the pokey.
How Seriously Should You Take This?
As we said above, this bill just got introduced. It bears watching, but it’s hardly going to become law next week.
Presuming it does pass as is, it would make prosecutions easier, but we’re probably talking about hundreds of prosecutions rather than one here and there.
It would put a fairly big damper on providing P2P software. The places that want to be strictly legal probably won’t want to be hassled with the record-keeping, while those who refuse to follow the law will be criminalized.
At the least, this is a sign that those who count in the U.S. Congress are growing increasingly impatient with the industry failing to address this issue, and the day when they’ll do it for them is coming, and sooner rather than later.
P.S. For those of you who mistakenly think copyright infringement isn’t theft, please go here. It lists various crimes under the category “Stolen Property”, and criminal infringement of a copyright is one of them.
What this bill would do is make the act of making run-of-the-mill “file-sharing,” a criminal act, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
There is also civil infringement of a copyright. What’s the difference? Criminal offenses can land you in jail; civil offenses can just get you fined.