• United States
Senior Editor

House bill would make single upload a felony

Jul 17, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

Two Democratic congressman have introduced a bill that would make a single unauthorized upload of a copyrighted work, such as a song, a federal felony. One critic is calling the legislation “ridiculous.”

Reps. John Conyers Jr., (D-Mich.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.) introduced the “Author, Consumer, and Computer Owner Protection and Security Act of 2003” (ACCOPS Act) on Wednesday.

Saying that a single upload to a peer-to-peer file sharing site can cost the copyright owner thousands of dollars in lost revenue, the bill clarifies that the uploading of one copyrighted work meets the 10 copy, $2,500 threshold for felonious copyright infringement in U.S. copyright law.

The bill also says file-sharing Web sites must get consent from consumers who download software that takes over their computers either to search other computers for content or to store files, and makes it a federal offense to provide misleading contact information when registering a domain name with knowledge and with fraudulent intent.

The bill also gives the U.S. Department of Justice an additional $15 million to prosecute copyright violations.

The ACCOPS Act is needed because existing laws do not go far enough to protect copyright holders such as artists, authors, actors, movie companies, software developers, publishers, and record studios, who are suffering because people are using technology to share and obtain their content for free, Conyers said in a statement.

But lawyer Philip Corwin, who represents Sharman Networks, the owner of the Kazaa peer-to-peer service, questioned whether a law that would make the millions of Internet users who frequent file-swapping services potential felons would be a good idea. “Any bill that would turn 57 million U.S. citizens into criminals needs to be clearly scrutinized,” Corwin said. “The idea of sending a kid who’s downloaded a couple of songs to jail is just ridiculous.”

Large copyright holders have argued unauthorized file trading should be treated like theft, but Corwin said the punishment doesn’t fit the crime in the ACCOPS Act. Based on pay download services, the value of a single downloaded song on the Internet is about 99 cents, he said. “I don’t know of anybody who’s been sent to federal jail for stealing something worth 99 cents,” he added. “It’s just totally way over the top.”

The Interactive Digital Software Association. however, issued a statement strongly endorsing ACCOPS, saying it strikes a balance between copyright holders and privacy rights. The trade association, representing computer and video game software publishers, noted the bill requires distributors of file-swapping software to give notice to consumers that downloading file-sharing software may create security and privacy risks.

Corwin countered that file-swapping software is likely safer than e-mail. If copyright holders wanted to come up with a constructive solution, they would work with peer-to-peer services to commercialize the downloading of software, music and movies, he said, instead of suing downloaders or seeking legislation like ACCOPS.

“That would be a much more positive and effective approach,” Corwin added.

In July 2002, Berman introduced a bill that would allow copyright holders to hack into networks they think are distributing their products without permission. He argued in a statement that the ACCOPS bill was needed to help law enforcement agencies go after copyright violators.

“Authors, consumers and computer owners face a dizzying array of online threats to their livelihoods, privacy and security,” Berman said in the statement. “These activities run the gamut from identity theft, distribution of child pornography, and unlicensed drug sales to stalking, fraud, trademark counterfeiting, and copyright piracy. Law enforcement authorities need additional resources and statutory authority to effectively deal with this rash of online scams, crimes, and illegalities.”