Bill would create DOJ unit, increase dept.'s piracy budget

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers aim to give the movie biz a major boost today in its efforts to crackdown on piracy.

Reps. Howard Berman (D-California) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) plan to add language to a broader anti-piracy bill that would make it illegal to use a camcorder to record a film in a movie theater, industry sources said.

Similar language, sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) is moving in the Senate, and could see action in that body’s Judiciary Committee as early as next week.

Berman and Smith plan to offer the camcorder language to the Piracy Deterrence Act, legislation that would expand the scope of the Dept. of Justice’s criminal powers to go after large-scale online file-swappers.

That overall bill, expected to pass the full House Judiciary panel today, would give the FBI the authority to warn file-sharers that they may be liable for their actions if they continue to download music and movies from peer-to-peer Internet sites such as Kazaa and Groekster, known as P2P companies.

Legislation also mandates that each DOJ unit dedicated to computer hacking and intellectual property crimes must have at least one agent assigned to investigate copyright crimes. In addition, the bill would increase the DOJ’s piracy budget by $5 million to a total of $10 million in order to create an educational outreach program on Internet copyright law and the legal risks involved in using P2P sites.

The Smith-Berman amendment aims to satisfy a top prerogative of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, which maintains that in nine out of 10 cases, movies that show up within days of their theatrical releases are from copies made by camcorder.

In the past two years, lobbyists for the MPAA have succeeded in passing legislation banning camcorder use in theaters in California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

Between May 2002 and May 2003 more than 50 major movie titles were stolen by camcording before their theatrical release, according to the MPAA.

Under the Smith-Berman bill, films in theaters would be considered pre-release if they have not been officially released on video. This “pre-release” piracy would carry a sentence of up to five years in prison, up to 10 years for a second offense.

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