The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that could allow criminal charges to be brought against individuals who participate in file-swapping Web sites or networks.
On a voice vote, the measure passed the House and will now be sent to the U.S. Senate. The bill expands the definition of file traders eligible for criminal penalties from individuals who "willingly" distribute copyright files to those who "knowingly" do so, an escalation that could result in jail time for file swappers, according to Adam Eisgrau, executive director of the P2P United lobbying group, which represents peer-to-peer companies and organizations.
The Piracy Deterrence and Education Act of 2004 was sponsored by Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas. "My legislation will close a loophole that has made it impossible for prosecutors to bring charges against counterfeiters. It empowers federal authorities to prosecute counterfeiting activity on a greater scale with better results," Smith said in a statement posted to his Web site Tuesday.
Detractors of the legislation claim that the measure would not stop the trading of copyright files and will not help the entertainment industry find a way to ensure artists get paid for the distribution of their works.
"Putting downloaders behind bars, or decimating their college funds with civil lawsuits, won't put the genie of peer-to-peer technology back in the bottle or put real money in the pockets of real artists," P2P United's Eisgrau said in an e-mail interview with IDG News Service earlier this week.
(Grant Gross in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.)