Amid the uproar last week over the introduction of the Induce Act, the Senate quietly passed the PIRATE Act -- legislation that would force taxpayers to foot the bill for the recording industry's misguided war on peer-to-peer file sharing.
Essentially unchanged from the version released in March, the PIRATE Act would create a new civil penalty for criminal copyright infringement: criminal restitution. It lowers the burden of proof by empowering the Department of Justice to "convict" on a preponderance of evidence rather than beyond reasonable doubt. Copyright owners, meanwhile, would remain free to bring their own civil actions against people already prosecuted by the government.
Translation? Under the PIRATE Act, the government would be encouraged to pursue the same kinds of fruitless lawsuits that the RIAA has been bringing against music fans.
The good news is that the PIRATE Act doesn't have a House companion. The bad news that a similar bill, the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act, or PDEA, is all marked up and ready to go.
As we note over at the Action Center, the PDEA would create the first criminal copyright penalties for people who aren't engaged in willful criminal conduct. Under the law's murky "negligence" standard, a person with 1,000 legally obtained songs could be sent to jail for three years if she fails to lock them up tight enough.
Rather use our tax dollars to throw federal criminal investigators at the P2P problem, Congress should consider solutions that pay artists, not lawyers. Copyright holders already have an astonishing array of legal tools for fighting infringement. It's time to stop adding new weapons to the arsenal and find new ways to let the music pay.