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Download Movies or Music Illegally? Go Directly to Jail

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Music, movie and software pirates are being targeted by the White House, whose Office of Intellectual Property Enforcement recommends making “illegal streaming” of audio or video a felony and allowing the wiretapping of those susected of copyright infringement.

According to a recently published white paper, Victoria Espinel, U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator for the Obama administration, proposes sweeping revisions to intellectual property law. She also recommends law enforcement efforts that impose tighter restrictions and penalties on alleged violators. Citing concerns that digital streaming of protected media may not be adequately covered by criminal law, as well as the growing problems presented by overseas pirates and websites, the document proposes that streamed content infringement be treated as a felony offense. Also suggested is that the use of federal wiretaps be allowed in copyright and trademark infringement investigations.

Though measures such as 1998’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (designed to curb the illegal spread of copyrighted works) currently exist, they’ve proved largely ineffectual at combating the growth of Internet piracy. These steps have also earned the ire of programmers, hackers and software developers for their restrictiveness, their wholesale validation of DRM copy protection and the potential for abuse by overzealous copyright owners.

The widespread sharing of digital music, films, books, video games, apps and other content through BitTorrent as well as websites has clearly become a concern for musicians, filmmakers and software creators in recent years. However, proponents argue that the added public exposure and distribution, coupled with the ability to make money through the back-end sale of in-app downloads or online microtransactions, may actually be these industries’ savior.

Unfortunately, should Congress adopt the recommended measures, these larger cultural and macroeconomic issues may be moot to the average tween, teen and twenty-something, who’ll instead face more pressing concerns. For example, having to worry whether Big Brother is listening in to them gush over Steven Tyler’s latest American Idol appearance, or if they’re facing a potential prison sentence for downloading the latest Kings of Leon album.

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