Capsizing Net piracy

Pols' bill would bolster law enforcement

WASHINGTON — Fed up with rampant Internet thievery, a pair of lawmakers want to strengthen the hand of the FBI and other law enforcement officials to crack down on online pirates.

Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.) plan to offer a bill to clarify the authority of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection to seize pirated materials even if the product has not been officially registered with U.S. copyright agencies.

Legislation would require the FBI to develop an education program aimed at deterring individuals from offering movies, music or any other copyrighted material on the Web and from illegally downloading it. It also would help facilitate the sharing of information about violators among law enforcement agencies, Internet service providers and copyright owners such as the studios and music labels.

“This bill is a sensible step forward in ensuring that the government plays a proper role in educating our young people about the importance of respecting intellectual property and giving the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement officials the personnel and programs necessary to help them fight this scourge,” Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy Jack Valenti said in a statement Friday.

Smith and Berman also want would-be thieves to view some kind of government warning akin to the FBI alerts that viewers receive against copying when they buy or rent videos and DVDs. Legislation would require the FBI to issue appropriate warnings to individuals engaged in potentially illegal copying.

In addition, bill would clarify the authority of the Customs Bureau to seize counterfeit copies of U.S. and foreign works at the border, regardless of whether that work has been registered with the Copyright Office or recorded with the Bureau of Customs.

Although seizures are already permitted under U.S. law for American and foreign works, the latter are not always specifically registered for protection with U.S. Customs, leaving inspectors unsure of their authority.

“The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection has been unclear about its legal authority to seize infringing copyrighted materials,” bill states. “To provide clarity, it is necessary to specify the authority of the Bureau of Customs to seize infringing materials protected by the copyright laws, with or without registration.”

To ensure that law enforcement has the know-how and manpower to go after pirates, bill would beef up the Justice Dept.’s Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property units.

It would require the attorney general to assign any unit responsible for investigating computer hacking or intellectual property crimes at least one agent devoted to anti-piracy, and it would require that agent receives the proper training.

If bill is enacted, an associate attorney general would oversee the education program designed to educate the general public about piracy and the personal security risks involved with downloading music and movies from peer-to-peer file-swapping services such as Kazaa and Grokster.

“There is a need for greater awareness about our copyright laws and the illegality of pirating of copyrighted works over the Internet, and this bill bolsters the government’s ability to bring that message to the public,” said Recording Industry Assn. of America prexy Cary Sherman in a statement Friday.