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Senate passes scaled-back copyright bill

Hackers and industry insiders who distribute copyrighted works face stiffened penalties under the bill, but controversial measures including jail time for song-swappers were dropped.
/ Source: Reuters

The Senate has voted to outlaw several favorite techniques of people who illegally copy and distribute movies, but has dropped other measures that could have led to jail time for Internet song-swappers.

People who secretly videotape movies when they are shown in theaters could go to prison for up to three years under the measure, which passed the Senate on Saturday.

Hackers and industry insiders who distribute music, movies or other copyrighted works before their official release date also face stiffened penalties under the bill.

"This bill strengthens the intellectual-property laws that are vital to the ongoing growth of our economy," Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said.

Most elements of the bill have already passed the House but will need to be approved by the House again in December to iron out minor differences.

Left out were several more controversial measures that would criminalize the actions of millions of Internet users who copy music and movies for free over "peer to peer" networks like Kazaa.

These users now face copyright-infringement lawsuits from recording labels and movie studios, and thousands have been hit with such suits since last year.

Under a measure approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, song swappers could go to jail for up to three years if they shared more than 1,000 copyrighted works.

That bill would have also directed the Justice Department to pursue file-traders more actively through civil lawsuits.

Consumer groups, consumer-electronics makers and the American Conservative Union had sought to derail those measures, portraying them as a radical expansion of traditional copyright protections.

That material was dropped from the bill, but the Justice Department said on its own last month it plans to take a more aggressive approach to policing intellectual-property crimes.

The bill also shields "family friendly" services like ClearPlay that strip violent or sexually explicit scenes from movies. Hollywood groups say such services violate their copyrighted works by altering them without permission.

A section that would have made it illegal to edit out commercials was removed.

Earlier in the week Congress approved a measure that would streamline the process by which royalty rates are determined.

Another measure that would have made it easier to sue peer-to-peer networks died in committee last month, though insiders expect Congress to take it up again next year.