House Passes Bill to Limit Piracy

Using video cameras to record films in movie theaters would become a federal crime punishable by up to six years in prison under a bill passed Tuesday by the House.

The legislation, called the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act (search), also would make it easier for the Justice Department to prosecute Internet users who illegally distribute large amounts of music and other copyrighted works.

It encourages the FBI (search) to use Internet providers to forward warning letters to subscribers whose accounts are being used for illegally downloading music and movies. That provision is aimed largely at parents who may be unaware of their children's activities.

"There seems to be a belief among America's youth ... that copyright piracy is either an acceptable activity or one that carries a low risk of penalties," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

In addition, the bill offers some copyright protections (search) for fledgling technology that helps parents prevent children from watching movie scenes depicting sex, violence or foul language.

Supporters of the House legislation expected the Senate to consider the proposal as early as next week. The House passed on it on a voice vote.

Legal experts say about 10 states already prohibit people recording movies inside theaters. The House bill would make it a felony, which would permit local and state police to make arrests even when officers don't personally witness the illicit recording. Movie-goers caught would face up to three years in prison for a first offense, and up to six years for later arrests.

The bill makes it easier for the Justice Department to prosecute Internet users who illegally distribute more than 1,000 copyrighted files. Those users already face high civil penalties if they are caught and sued. College students have been frequent users of file-sharing services.

U.S. laws now require criminal prosecutors to prove that an Internet user "willfully" distributed music and movie files illegally. Some Internet users have complained they were unaware that by downloading files from these networks onto their own computers they also make the files available to others.

Under a lower standard in the House bill, prosecutors must prove Internet users "knowingly" distributed copyrighted materials with a "reckless disregard" that others might also copy them.

The FBI warnings for Internet users would be limited to no more than 10,000 mailings. The Justice Department would be required to pay Internet providers for forwarding the warnings to their subscribers. The bill explicitly prohibits Internet providers from disclosing the identities of these customers to the FBI without a court order.

The bill includes language by Rep. Lamar Smith (search), R-Texas, offering immunity from Hollywood copyright suits to makers of DVD players and other devices featuring technology that parents can use to filter objectionable movie