"A July 2002 letter from prominent politicians to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft urged the prosecution of Americans who "allow mass copying from their computer over peer-to-peer networks."
But the Justice Department has been less than eager to file criminal charges against people like Jammie Thomas, who recently was found liable for $222,000 in damages in a lawsuit brought by the RIAA. Federal prosecutors have indicated that they're hesitant to target peer-to-peer pirates with criminal charges for two reasons: Imprisoning file-swapping teens on felony charges isn't the department's top priority, and it's difficult to make criminal charges stick.
The relative ease of winning civil cases compared to criminal prosecutions is one big reason why the RIAA and MPAA adore the Pirate Act, called the Intellectual Property Enforcement Act in its latest incarnation. The burden of proof is lower, and a civil defendant has far fewer rights under the law.
There are two other benefits for copyright holders. It's cheaper for copyright holders because they don't have to take the the risk of hiring expensive lawyers to sue a defendant who's judgment-proof (and can't cough up a check if found liable). And judges and juries may be more likely to side with Justice Department prosecutors, who claim they're looking out for the public interest, than law firms employed by the for-profit companies comprising the RIAA."The FBI would also get more money to act as the entertainment industries' dedicated police force. How kind.
Update: Meanwhile the Congress folks are busy with some proposed legislation which would force colleges to police networks for copyright infringement and pay for music subscription services.
"New federal legislation says universities must agree to provide not just deterrents but also "alternatives" to peer-to-peer piracy, such as paying monthly subscription fees to the music industry for their students, on penalty of losing all financial aid for their students.
The U.S. House of Representatives bill (PDF), which was introduced late Friday by top Democratic politicians, could give the movie and music industries a new revenue stream by pressuring schools into signing up for monthly subscription services such as Ruckus and Napster. Ruckus is advertising-supported, and Napster charges a monthly fee per student...
According to the bill, if universities did not agree to test "technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity," all of their students--even ones who don't own a computer--would lose federal financial aid.
The prospect of losing a combined total of nearly $100 billion a year in federal financial aid, coupled with the possibility of overzealous copyright-bots limiting the sharing of legitimate content, has alarmed university officials."