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Public Knowledge Pans AG's Copyright Proposal

The Bush administration's proposal to toughen the nation's copyright laws is drawing overwhelming support from content owners. But at least one public advocacy group is not clapping loudly.

Digital rights advocacy group Public Knowledge, though quick to say it supports the enforcement of copyright law and holders' rights, said the proposal attempts to enforce copyright law in ways that raise questions.

"The bill would eliminate the requirement that a copyrighted work be registered before the government could pursue a criminal copyright infringement claim," the group said in a statement. "Current copyright law requires a copyrighted work to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office before an infringement suit can be filed--regardless of whether it is a civil or criminal suit."

The response from the group followed Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' announcement of the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2005 yesterday.

The proposed legislation expands the scope of U.S. copyright laws by including attempted copyright theft as a criminal offense.

The proposal also adds criminal penalties to intellectual property theft motivated by any type of commercial advantage or private financial gain. It would also strengthen restitution protection for victims of intellectual property theft.

In addition, the Department of Justice wants to expand the law to cover unregistered works.

"Given the growing sophistication of today's music piracy trade, taking the profit out of crime is now more important than ever," Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, said in a ringing endorsement of the proposal, one of many from content providers.

In its analysis of the bill, the DoJ dismissed Public Knowledge's concerns as a mere technicality.

"Because prosecutors work for the public good, they should be able to institute an infringement prosecution even if the copyright has not yet been registered," states the DoJ analysis. "This is especially true now that a typical criminal prosecution for copyright piracy over the Internet commonly involves hundreds, if not thousands, of copyrighted works."

The analysis added: "The burden of checking whether each work was registered would substantially slow down investigations and hinder the government's ability to prosecute these violations, especially infringement of works owned by small businesses that have not had the time or resources to register."

Public Knowledge is also concerned that making the "attempt at copyright infringement the same as actual infringement puts it in the same category as far more serious criminal offenses."

The DoJ claims that the change would be consistent with other similar statutes.

"As with other criminal intellectual property laws, an attempt to violate the criminal copyright statute should be counted an offense whether it is successful or not," the DoJ said. "It is a general tenet of the criminal law that those who attempt to commit a crime but do not complete it are as morally culpable as those who succeed in doing so."