More Jail Time For Copyright Crooks?

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sent legislation to Capitol Hill Monday that would increase jail time for repeat offenders of copyright laws. The bill would also strengthen forfeiture penalties for those involved in intellectual property theft.

Speaking before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Gonzales said the proposed law would “hit the criminals in their wallets.”

The Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007 would keep the U.S. law updated in the face of global challenges, Gonzales said. As of Tuesday morning, the legislation had no official sponsor in Congress.

“Those who seek to undermine this cornerstone of U.S. economic competitiveness believe that they are making easy money; that they are beyond the law,” Gonzales said. “It is our responsibility and commitment to show them that they are wrong.

“IP theft is not a technicality, and its victims are not just faceless corporations — it is stealing, and it affects us all.”

In 2006 the Department of Justice (DoJ) convicted 57 percent more defendants on copyright and trademark violations than in 2005, Gonzales said, adding that the number of defendants receiving jail time of more than two years was up 130 percent.

According to the DoJ, the agency has 230 federal prosecutors across the country who have specific training to handle IP investigations.

“Increased enforcement across the government and stiffer sentences send an important message to these counterfeiters and pirates that we take their crimes seriously, and we will punish their actions,” Gonzales said.

In addition to increased IP training and enforcement, Gonzales said the DoJ has improved its focus on international outreach. In 2006, the DoJ trained more than 3,000 prosecutors, investigators and judges from 107 countries. The DoJ also established an IP law enforcement center in Bangkok, Thailand.

The DoJ also increased its Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (CHIP) network in 2006, increasing the total number of CHIP prosecutors to 230 with at least one in each U.S. Attorney’s office. The DoJ said the number of specialized CHIP units nearly doubled since 2005.

“The…efforts to improve criminal IP enforcement have led to substantial increases in federal investigations and prosecutions of IP violations,” Gonzales said. “We are dedicating more resources than ever before to the protection of U.S. intellectual property rights.”

Gonzales also praised his agency’s increased outreach to the private sector, noting the DoJ hosted a series of training conferences for IP rights holders. Topics included the investigation and prosecution of federal IP cases, permissible cooperation and assistance in federal investigations and how to report criminal IP violations.

“More than ever before, the [DoJ] and our partners at all levels of government are reaching out to industry…because we know that we cannot do it alone,” Gonzales said.

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