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Crackdown urged on copyright piracy

LOS ANGELES -- A federal task force has recommended expanded investigative and prosecutorial powers to combat intellectual property theft ranging from counterfeit drugs to swapping songs over the Internet.

Wiretaps should be allowed to investigate intellectual property theft that threatens health and safety, and more investigators should be added in key US cities and in piracy hot spots in Asia and Eastern Europe, the report released yesterday said.

''With the recommendations put forward by the task force, the department is prepared to build the strongest, most aggressive legal assault against intellectual property crime in our nation's history," US Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

The report also endorsed the rights of companies to compel Internet service providers to turn over the names of people who have traded copyright-protected items online. That power is included in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but has been challenged by companies that want to protect the identity of their subscribers.

While much of the attention on intellectual property has been focused on protecting songs, movies, and software, the Intellectual Property Task Force report cited counterfeit drugs, brake pads, cellphone batteries, baby formula, and other items that can cost lives as well as cost their makers millions in profits.

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