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Justice Dept. wants bigger intellectual property enforcement team

The U.S. Justice Department is asking to hire more prosecutors to pursue intellectual property crimes as the entertainment industry pressures it to crack down on copyright infringement and counterfeiting.

Although Congress turned down the department’s $3 million request for six new hires last year, the Justice Department is now seeking 14 new employees, including nine attorneys, in the proposed 2013 budget. If approved by Congress, the hires would bring the enforcement team to 34 people. “We’ve had an increase in the number of cases that we’re dealing with in (intellectual property),” said a deputy attorney with the department. “We think this is an area that really needs some focus and some efforts and increases in the future.”

Take the example of Megaupload, one of the most heavily trafficked websites in the world. Last month U.S. prosecutors accused the site of selling copyrighted movies, TV shows and music and earning tens of millions of dollars in the process. The takedown of the site represented one of the largest copyright infringement cases of all time.

The entertainment industry has been pushing the Obama administration to do more, and legislation that would crack down harder on intellectual property crimes has stalled. The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act were met with an uproar of protests, which included the blackout of several prominent websites. The protestors argued that either bill would impede free speech and give the Justice Department too much power to censor the Internet.

It remains to be seen whether such a divided Congress will oblige Obama’s request during an election year. But in an age when technology makes it easier and easier to reproduce content without permission, the issue of intellectual property enforcement is bound to become increasingly important.

Source: Reuters, “Justice Dept seeks to bolster IP enforcement team,” Jeremy Pelofsky, Feb. 13, 2012

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