Fine you? Peanuts. Electronic disruptions? Child’s play. We will throw your ass in jail for file-swapping:
- Now, however, the entertainment industry is revising its strategy. The new plan appears to extend the target beyond companies with an apparent declaration of legal warfare against individuals who the industry believes are swapping illicit songs or movies through peer-to-peer networks. The outcome could include jail time for those convicted of wrongful file swapping.
….The new strategy relies on a two-pronged approach. Part one, as previously reported by CNET News.com, appears to widen legal efforts to include civil lawsuits against individuals.
Trading copyrighted wares without permission generally runs afoul of current federal law, which means that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), if it chooses could pursue the matter in court. That has some benefits: If the RIAA wins a judgment, it can take a cut of the defendant’s future paychecks and inheritances, and the debt does not disappear even if that person files for bankruptcy.
….Enter part two of the new strategy, which seeks to enlist the resources of the federal government in an attempt to put peer-to-peer pirates in federal prison.
Last Friday, Reuters reported that some of the most senior members of Congress are pressuring the Justice Department to invoke a little-known law: the No Electronic Theft (NET) Act.
Under the NET Act, signed by President Clinton in 1997, it is a federal crime for a person to share copies of copyrighted products such as software, movies or music with friends and family members if the value of the work exceeds $1,000. Violations are punishable by one year in prison, or if the value tops $2,500, not more than five years in prison.
That’s a mighty weapon to wield against peer-to-peer pirates, especially when so many Americans are potential federal felons, but it seems likely that the Justice Department will honor Congress’ request. The agency already has used the NET Act to imprison software pirates, a move that tech companies hailed as “an important component of the overall effort to prevent software theft.”
Probably the best that could happen under the circumstances is a trial:
- Peter Jaszi, a law professor at American University who is a critic of recent additions to copyright law, says he welcomes the idea of prosecutions under the NET Act.
“It’s positive in the sense that this decision is going to make everyone aware of what the real stakes in this contest are,” Jaszi said. On the other hand, he said, “I think (the industry) is going to have a tremendously difficult time trying to find judges and juries who will convict individuals who are engaging in content sharing of this type.”
Any NET Act prosecution could send a chill through the entire peer-to-peer community inside the United States, with possible prison time for what most people seem to view as a harmless activity–illegal, perhaps, but easy to forgive–like speeding on an interstate highway.
Jaszi says any future trial “may become a trial of the whole question of whether we regard content sharing” as a criminal act.