Show trials and forewarning

Tue, 28 Jan 2003 12:50:18 -0500 (EST)

"this is to my hommies in cell block C
busted down to Rikers for passing a CD
25 to life downtime under the lock
for ripping divx episodes of Fraggle Rock"
  -the Bytesome Prison Blues  TW



Posted 1/28/2003 - 11:43AM, by hanser

According to the No Electronic Theft Act (NET Act)
( signed into law
in 1997, you are an unindicted felon if you have ever downloaded mp3s, shared
movies, or pirated software. That's right, according to the Act, you could
face up to $250,000 in fines and three years in jail if you have used a
p2p network to download any of the above... even if you no longer do so.

Curiosly enough, the Justice Department has not prosecuted anyone under
the law yet. This will change, and soon. In July, a bi-partisan group of
congressmen asked the Justice Department to begin some NET Act
prosecutions ASAP. The group included Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., Rep.
James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., as well
as many others. You can check out the whole list of names as well as read
their letter to the Justice Department here (PDF)
 It took  the Justice Department just a few weeks to respond.

"A few weeks later, John Malcolm, a deputy assistant attorney general,
said to expect some NET Act prosecutions. "There does have to be some kind of a
public message that stealing is stealing is stealing," said Malcolm, who
oversees the arm of the Justice Department that prosecutes copyright and
computer crime cases."

The Justice Department has apparently not replied to a request for
comment, but this doesn't seem to be a sign that prosecutions are not
coming. The RIAA has been meeting with the Justice Department, and made a
statement on Friday:

"We are in constant communication with various law enforcement agencies
about all forms of piracy. It's illegal, and there clearly is an important
role that law enforcement can play...It's important to remember that a
'Kazaa user' trafficking in copyrighted music without permission is doing
something that is clearly illegal, as numerous courts have held that
uploading and downloading copyrighted works without permission constitutes
direct infringement. And it is well-established that copyright
infringement can be a federal crime, so government enforcement seems
perfectly appropriate."

It appears as though anyone can be prosecuted by the law, and indeed, the
only way around it seems to be proving that you're incompetent.

"To duck a conviction, you'd have to, in essence, prove you were an idiot.
Not a problem for some, but a big problem for most file-sharers, I
suspect." --Polk Wagner, assistant professor, University of Pennsylvania
Law School

The odds of being prosecuted under the law are pretty slim, but someone is
going to become a test case. Unfortunately for that unlucky person,
they're going to be hit with a hammer:

"In general, violations are punishable by one year in prison, if the total
value of the files exceeds $1,000; or, if the value tops $2,500, not more
than five years in prison. Also, if someone logs on to a file-trading
network and shares even one MP3 file without permission in "expectation"
that others will do the same, full criminal penalties kick in

There are more details regarding the law, and its history over at