Should ordinary Americans face jail time for attempted copyright infringement? Should the sort of property forfeiture penalties applied in drug busts also threaten P2P users, mixtape makers, and mash-up artists? Of course not, but the Department of Justice (DoJ) has drafted [PDF] an outrageous legislative proposal that applies these severe penalties and much more. Take action now to stop it.

Criminal copyright infringement already goes beyond situations involving large-scale commercial piracy. Thanks to laws like the No Electronic Theft (NET) Act and the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act (FECA), the federal government can now criminally charge (i.e., send to prison) people for simply uploading a single "pre-release" song (as two Ryan Adams fans discovered last year when they were brought up on federal charges for uploading tracks from pre-release promotional CDs).

Most of the DoJ's proposed changes to copyright's criminal provisions fall into two categories: (1) making it easier to convict people by eliminating the inconvenient necessity of proving that actual infringement took place, and (2) increasing the financial and confinement punishments. Law enforcement would also be allowed to use wiretaps and to spy on personal communications as part of copyright investigations. That potentially translates into wiretap authority for millions of American homes, since surveys show that 1 in 5 American Internet users downloads music and movies from P2P networks.

This guarantees one result: more costly, unnecessary, and draconian investigations and prosecutions funded by taxpayer dollars. Not only will this end up costing Americans tremendous amounts of time, money, and peace of mind, but it will also give law enforcement yet another opportunity to invade your privacy. All it takes is a single attempt to download the wrong file online.

Law enforcement already has enough tools to go after commercial pirates, and the entertainment industry has the tools to pay its own lawyers to sue infringers. Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars, Congress ought to be focusing on meaningful copyright reform that protects fans' rights to use creative material and supports new technologies.

Write to your representatives now.

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