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A new anti-piracy bill in California gives law enforcement another tool to crack down on copyright infringement, but critics say it will only divert resources away from fighting more important crimes.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill last week requiring file swappers to provide a legitimate e-mail address when they share music or movies online, or be charged with a misdemeanor. The law goes into effect in January.
The Motion Picture Association of America sponsored the bill, introduced by state Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles), which updates a state law that requires names and addresses of DVD, CD and video manufacturers to be printed on the items in an effort to prevent counterfeit goods.
"We took that model and concept and translated it to the electronic and digital world," said Vans Stevenson, senior vice president of state legislative affairs for the MPAA. "It's another tool to go after counterfeiters and thieves on the internet."
Murray did not return calls seeking comment.
Now, any Californian who shares files with more than 10 people must add their e-mail address to the file. Those who break this law could be fined up to $2,500, spend a year in jail or both. Minors who break the law would pay $250 for their first and second offenses.
Stevenson said that the MPAA plans to use this legislation as a model for other states.
Critics said the law is a tricky way for copyright owners to get at file swappers. People are not targeted for copyright violations, rather, they are nabbed for not adding their e-mail to a shared file.
"No one believes that it's a crime to leave your e-mail address off of a file you're sharing," said Jason Schultz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "It's a means to an end to get around the limits of federal copyright law and give state prosecutors leverage to bust people. Now they are going to be arresting people for forgetting to list their e-mail address."
Sarah Deutsch, associate general counsel for Verizon Communications, which opposed the legislation, said the law could threaten anonymous communication on the internet.
"There are many ways to be anonymous on the internet that have nothing to do with copyright," she said. "I would not want my children putting (their e-mail) on every communication."
It also diverts resources away from more pressing problems, like violent crime.
"There's no need to create state criminal liability for copyright infringement," said Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "I suspect that California taxpayers would rather see their criminal justice authorities used to fight violent crime and terrorism rather than this sort of effort."
Cohn said that few file sharers provide their e-mail addresses now and she doubted that people would do so in the future.
Still, the bill that passed was an improvement over earlier legislation which would have required file sharers to attach their name and home address to files, which caused concern among privacy advocates, Cohn said. She also said it was good that the legislators drew a line between penalties for adults and minors.
Schwarzenegger has taken other action on peer-to-peer networking. A few weeks ago, he signed an executive order to develop a policy governing the use of file-sharing software by all state employees.
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