FBI Proposes Warning On All Entertainment, Software Products - InformationWeek
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FBI Proposes Warning On All Entertainment, Software Products

The FBI's seal is designed to deter individual piracy and aid in prosecuting piracy rings.

The FBI says it will give the movie, music, and software industries a digital anti-piracy seal, an analog to the FBI's warning displayed at the beginning of videotapes.

Joined by execs from the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Software and Information Industry Association, and the Entertainment Software Association, FBI officials said during a Thursday press conference that the seal not only will deter individuals engaging in piracy, but that it would aid in the prosecution of piracy rings by ensuring a particular work's status as copyright-protected could not be disputed.

How the seal would be used and when it will begin to appear remains undetermined. But it could be embedded on the surface of disks or printed on packaging, or it could also be deployed as a pop-up screen during software installation. The seal, marked by the "FBI Anti-Piracy Warning" label, is accompanied by a statement that criminal copyright infringement is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The seal would enable the music and movie industries to deliver on their stated belief that education is as important as enforcement in combating piracy.

"Consumers need to be aware of these consequences," said Brad Buckles, executive VP and director of anti-piracy for the RIAA. "Copyright infringement is theft. It is not victimless crime." Buckles said he believes consumers who see the FBI logo will learn what they can and can't do with music they buy online or in retail stores. The rise in piracy has been accompanied by a 31% decline in units being shipped by record companies over the last three years, he said. "It's had a dramatic impact."

Keith Kupferschmid, VP of the anti-piracy division of the SIIA, said piracy also remains rampant in the software industry, costing U.S. companies about $12 billion a year in lost licensing revenue. It's increasingly hard to police because of the proliferation of computers and copying technologies. Kupferschmid said millions of software programs are available on peer-to-peer networks, and hundreds of thousands of Web sites sell pirated software, from the most recognizable titles to the most obscure. "Piracy doesn't just harm large software companies. Thousands of small software companies are also at risk," he said. "While the seal will not solve the problem, we feel it will aid the software industry in its war against piracy."

That war is important to movie studios, which last week saw the escape in Los Angeles of a film pirate. Johnny Ray Gasca is accused of using a camcorder to illegally record and distribute prerelease movie screenings. Gasca made off days before his trial was to begin, while in the custody of his lawyer. He remains a fugitive.

Movie execs also are worried about lost revenue from DVD sales and rentals. "We absolutely need downstream revenue to survive," said Ken Jacobsen, senior VP and director of worldwide anti-piracy operations for the MPAA, noting that only four of 10 movies earn enough at the box office to recoup the average of $89 million spent on producing and marketing a film.

Jacobsen and Buckles both said the cost of deploying the seal would be minimal and isn't expected to affect the price of CDs and DVDs.

Jana Monroe, assistant director of the FBI's cyberdivision, said the unit, created 18 months ago in large part to help hunt perpetrators of digital copyright infringement, will continue to get significant funding from the bureau. Monroe said preventing and prosecuting cybercrimes is now the FBI's No. 3 priority, behind anti-terrorism efforts and counterintelligence operations.

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