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Antipiracy Bill Applauded by Trade Groups

13 Nov, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

Trade groups applauded a bill introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that would punish people who record or trade movie or music files before their disc release with up to a $250,000 fine and five years of jail time.

The bill, tentatively called the Artists Rights Theft Protection (ART) Act, outlaws camcording in theaters or storing copies of movie files on a personal computer that is accessible from a file-trading network. The bill has not been assigned a number and may yet have some minor changes, a Feinstein aide said.

“VSDA supports the intent of the draft bill based on what we have seen,” said Sean Bersell, VP of public affairs for the Video Software Dealers Association. “We need effective legislation to ban camcorded movies. …We also need to punish the individuals who hijack the prerelease copies of movies and sell them on street corners.”

The penalties would apply to both pretheatrical and pre-DVD movie releases. The sentence of up to five years is for a first offense; subsequent offenses could net a convicted offender up to 10 years.

Watchdog group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called the bill overkill.

“It's a bit ironic that Hollywood has decided to target the cam bootleggers with a new law. After all, camming in order to create bootlegs is already a criminal offense under copyright law. At the same time, this law fails to address the single biggest source for Hollywood movies on the Internet -- leaks from inside the studios themselves.

A recent AT&T Research study shows that 75 percent of the movies online are sourced from studio insiders,” said EFF senior intellectual property attorney Fred von Lohmann. “If Hollywood really wanted to address the problem of movie piracy, they would pass a law making it a criminal offense for their own employees to leak these films. Until Hollywood takes steps to clean up their own house, I think it's premature to pass another redundant law that is more posturing than progress.”

Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) research cited in the discussion draft of the bill stated that “92.4 percent of the first copies of movies available for download on the Internet originate from camcorders.” Only four states have enacted bills that criminalize making camcorder copies in movie theaters.

The bill also requires a review of the federal sentencing guidelines for making or transmitting unauthorized copies.

“Senators Cornyn and Feinstein deserve the applause and gratitude of everyone who cares deeply about combating digital film theft,” said MPAA president and CEO Jack Valenti. “It is a menace, which is clearly recognized by both senators. They are deeply involved, and I'm confident their persuasions will enlist the rest of the Senate.”

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