A forthcoming copyright bill backed by key U.S. senators would place file swappers in prison for up to three years if they have a copy of even one prerelease movie in their shared folders.
In addition to the prison term, the Artists' Rights and Theft Prevention Act would punish making such movies available on a public "computer network" as a federal felony with a fine of up to $250,000. It would not require that any copyright infringement actually take place.
Hollywood studios have fretted for years about Internet distribution of prerelease movies, meaning films that have not appeared on DVD or in theaters. Footage of "Star Wars: Episode II," "Tomb Raider" and "The Hulk," has reportedly surfaced on peer-to-peer networks before their commercial distribution. In September, the major studios responded by halting their normal practice of sending DVD "screeners" to Academy Award judges.
A copy of the bill seen by CNET News.com, marked "Discussion Draft," represents one of the fiercest attacks yet on peer-to-peer networks from copyright holders' allies on Capitol Hill.
The threat of a three-year prison term kicks in when anyone makes an illicit copy of a movie "available on a computer network accessible to members of the public," when the film "was intended for commercial distribution but had not been so distributed at the time." Once the film is commercially distributed, the felony penalties appear to no longer apply.