00:25 AM

DHS' new job under copyright bill: monitor borders for concert bootlegs

The White House is throwing its support behind a bill to dramatically extend penalties for copyright infringement - and even "attempted" copyright infringement, News.com's Declan McCullagh reports.

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 Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007 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.")

Obviously, some people attempt murder and fail, and those people should still be punished (although not as harshly as those who actually complete the deed), but is it really that hard to complete copyright infringement? Would having your Internet connection go down during a P2P upload count as attempted copyright infringement? Other aspects of the bill are equally bizarre, such as:

  • "Anyone using counterfeit products who "recklessly causes or attempts to cause death" can be imprisoned for life." Huh? Justice Dept. officials say hospital officials who use pirated software could be prosecuted under this provision. But wouldn't any system whose failure could cause death run software tightly integrated with the hardware? I mean, you wouldn't find Artificial Life Support 7.0 on LimeWire, would you?

  • "Permit more wiretaps for piracy investigations." No surprise there.

  • "Add penalties for intended copyright crimes." This appears to be even a lower standard than attempted copyright crimes; it seems to net in actions that don't rise to the level of attempt.

  • Most bizarre, I think: "Require Homeland Security to alert the Recording Industry Association of America ... when compact discs with 'unauthorized fixations of the sounds or sounds and images of a live musical performance' are attempted to be imported." So now it's a matter of homeland security to guard against concert bootlegs? Perhaps terrorists hate America so much they want to kill us with rarities. Why not make Homeland Security monitor YouTube for clips of the Daily Show?

What's still unclear is the kind of reception this legislation might encounter on Capitol Hill. Gonzales may not be terribly popular, but Democrats do tend to be more closely aligned with Hollywood and the recording industry than the GOP. (A few years ago, Republicans even savaged fellow conservatives for allying themselves too closely with copyright holders.)