The US Department of Justice has announced that it intends to step up criminal prosecutions for infringement of copyright and other intellectual property, and has sought stronger powers to assist it.

To this end, US Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales has introduced to Congress the Intellectual Property Protection Act 2007. The bill would raise penalties for repeat copyright infringers and would "hit criminals in their wallets", according to the attorney-general, by providing for forfeiture of illegally made profits, as well as the equipment used to commit the underlying crimes.

Moreover, the proposed legislation would criminalize "attempting" to infringe copyright on the premise that, according to the department's summary of the legislation:

"It is a general tenet of the criminal law that those who attempt to commit a crime but do not complete it are as morally culpable as those who succeed in doing so."

In addition, in view of the increased prominence of copyright infringement of television and film, the department will increase the number of prosecutors focusing on IP crimes and place greater emphasis on international cooperation in investigating cross-border piracy rings. "These crimes […] have a direct impact on our economy, costing victims millions of dollars and, if left unchecked, diminishing entrepreneurship," the attorney-general stated. As such, strengthening criminal sanctions for copyright infringement is supported by the entertainment industry. For example, the Motion Picture Association of America has commented that it "appreciate[s] the department's commitment to intellectual-property protection".

However, the bill has received criticism from other quarters. In particular, organizations that advocate the rights of copyright users, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, emphasize that the proposal shifts the burden of protecting the entertainment industry's property to the government: "This guarantees one result: more costly, unnecessary, and draconian investigations and prosecutions funded by taxpayer dollars." It will be interesting to observe developments in this latest example of pressure being applied to the balance between the rights of copyright owners and consumers.

This article first appeared in World Copyright Law Report. For further information please go to