Justice Dept. wants piracy criminalized

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is warning bootleggers: Don’t even think about it.

The Dept. of Justice sent Congress proposed legislation that for the first time would criminalize “intent to distribute” pirated product.

Bill also toughens penalties against repeat offenders and against those whose illicit goods cause injury or death. But the provision on intent enters new territory.

“We wanted to include as a crime any attempt to sell even if there were no direct evidence of selling,” a senior Justice official said. For instance, authorities might uncover and seize a warehouse full of pirated product sitting idle. Under the new provision, that could be enough to draw charges of illegal distribution as well as illegal copying.

Bill is designed as a broad net for all kinds of piracy, with an emphasis against counterfeit goods that endanger public health or safety.

“While crimes like (intellectual property) theft may appear harmless to some, we know that the reality is much different,” Gonzales told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday, announcing the legislation. “Imagine a heart patient undergoing emergency surgery at a hospital that unknowingly purchased substandard counterfeit surgical equipment or medications.”

Bill would double the existing prison time from 10 to 20 years for injury resulting from counterfeit goods. If death results, a defendant could get a life sentence.

During a background briefing with reporters after Gonzales’ remarks, Justice officials said the legislation was comprehensive in addressing all kinds of piracy, and then singled out the provision against intent as an example of particular interest for the entertainment industry.

The officials also expressed optimism about their planned meeting next month with Chinese authorities in Beijing, saying they anticipate a new level of law enforcement co-operation against piracy. China is the world leader in bootlegged product.

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