“Attempting” copyright infingement is even illegal

Every day I like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales less and less. This morning on CNN I listened to him “answer” questions about the attorney firings and his second in command resigning. By “answer” I mean “dodge the questions and not actually come anywhere near providing an answer”. The man should be in politics.

Now, I have read a wonderful article about a new bill he is pushing on Congress to protect intellectual property. Before I even begin pointing out that there are several ideas in the bill that are idiotic and over-reaching, I will say this: Intellectual property should not be protected. Intellectual property is just ideas. People have ideas every day. How can you “protect” ideas? However, if someone uniquely applies an idea and creates a product, that can be patented of course. Ideas are just ideas until put to use.

Here are some bullet points from cNet‘s article on the topic:

  • Criminalize “attempting” to infringe copyright
  • Create a new crime of life imprisonment for using pirated software
  • Permit more wiretaps for piracy investigations
  • Allow computers to be seized more readily
  • Increase penalties for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anti-circumvention regulations
  • Add penalties for “intended” copyright crimes
  • Require Homeland Security to alert the Recording Industry Association of America

There are so many easy ways to argue the points above, but I’ll just pick a couple to poke holes in for now.

Attempting a crime is not the same as committing one. Even attempted crimes are easily proven since there was an act done, with evidence, that proves someone was in the act of trying to commit a crime. In the case of copyright infringement, it is much harder to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone was attempting anything.

If I have ripped music from my CD’s and put them on my hard drive, am I attempting infringement? No, that’s fair-use of something I bought. Let’s add a CD burner in my PC. Now am I infringing? No, I just need to make backup of my data. Finally, add a Bit Torrent client to my programs on the PC. Am I infringing yet? No, I just like to help seed Linux files so others can download them with no trouble.

Unfortunately, with this law, a clever prosecutor could likely persuade a jury that I have been downloading, burning, and most likely selling music or movies. Was I doing anything illegal in this situation? No, but one could make the case that it sure looks like it.

Assume that I’ve been taken to court under this law and found guilty by the jury. Now the courts can take away my PC, laptop, and any other piece of property I own by invoking the “seizure” part of this law. Some of you may recognize this use by law enforcement when they convict a drug-dealer. In those instances they take boats, homes, cars, etc. that were likely purchased with drug money.

In effect, someone who did not even commit a crime now stands to lose everything they and their family own just because they backed-up a CD they legally bought and helped spread the adoption of Linux. Does that seem fair to you?

It doesn’t seem right to me either.