The US House Judiciary Committee has approved legislation that would expand the definition of criminal file-trading over the internet.
The Piracy Deterrence and Education Act of 2004, which now moves to the full House for a vote, potentially expands the number of people who could be charged with criminal copyright violations by expanding the definition of criminal copyright infringement.
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In addition to people who "willfully" distribute copyright works such as music files, the expanded definition includes people who "knowingly" distribute copyrighted works "with reckless disregard of the risk for further infringement".
Opponents of the bill said it would make criminals out of P2P software users. P2P United, a lobbying group representing P2P suppliers, advocates instead that the recording industry work with P2P suppliers on a way to pay artists for downloads, said Adam Eisgrau, executive director of the group.
The bill that passed the full committee was an improvement over an earlier version of the bill, but the legislation is still "too vague" and could create criminal violations for material that's stored on a computer network, said Public Knowledge, an intellectual property law advocacy group.
The maximum criminal penalty in the bill is five years in prison for a first offence, and the bill includes a civil penalty for some copyright violations of up to $10,000 (£5,565) per violation.
The bill would also authorise the US Department of Justice to send notices outlining the penalties for file trading to the ISPs (Internet service providers) providing access to those file traders.
The latest version of the bill makes the warning programme voluntary instead of required for ISPs and it allows ISPs to recover their costs for participating in the programme, a change from the earlier version of the bill.
The goal of the legislation is to help law enforcement agencies prosecute more copyright violations.
Separately, the committee also approved a spyware bill that would create criminal penalties for those who access a protected computer without authorisation and use it to commit a federal offence, violate personal privacy or impair computer security.
The Internet Spyware Prevention Act complements the Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act (Spy Act), approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in June. Spy Act focuses on the definition of spyware and requires computer users give consent before information-collecting software is installed.
Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service