updated 11/21/2006 10:17:35 PM ET 2006-11-22T03:17:35

Critics of a copyright proposal in Australia are warning that serious penalties could result from the use of iPod music players and video-sharing sites like YouTube, even if all you're doing is showing yourself singing along to your favorite song.

Electronic Frontiers Australia, a free-speech advocacy group, said the proposal vastly extends the scope of items considered used for copyright theft. Instead of being limited to commercial machines like printing presses, the group said, the proposal would cover personal devices like video players, music players and home computers.

Another section "would arguably make distribution of copyright material via the Internet a criminal offense, even where the person responsible had not intended such distribution to occur," the group said.

The copyright proposal has been introduced in Parliament. Politicians and experts are debating it before a final version is put to a vote, expected next year next year.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has not responded directly to the claims, but has said the provisions are intended to catch and punish major music and movie pirates, not personal users.

The proposals would make it an indictable offense — one that must go before the justice system — for someone to possess a device with the intention of using it to infringe copyright. Previously, such infringements have generally been dealt with by paying damages to the copyright holder, without the involvement of the courts.

Brian Fitzgerald, the head of Queensland University's law school, said the changes "have the potential to make everyday Australians in homes and businesses across the country into criminals on a scale that we have not witnessed before."

The proposal could potentially cover "a 14-year-old girl videoing herself lip-synching to her favorite pop tune and uploading this to a video sharing Web site like YouTube," Fitzgerald wrote in an Oct. 26 article posted on the Web site of Online Opinion.

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