By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated July 22, 2003 01:00 AM

Speaking from his Neverland Ranch on Monday — and causing several music industry honchos to scratch their heads — Michael Jackson said Congress should not make any laws to penalize music fans for downloading songs illegally over the Internet, reports the Associated Press.

“I am speechless about the idea of putting music fans in jail for downloading music. It is wrong to download, but the answer cannot be jail,” Jackson, 44, said in his statement.

His comments referred specifically to a bill before Congress that would make it a federal felony to obtain copyright works over the Internet without permission.

Two Democrats, John Conyers and Howard Berman, have proposed the Authors, Consumer and Computer Owners Protection and Security Act of 2003 (known as the Accops Act) that would enact penalties of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for uploading a copyrighted file to a peer-to-peer (P2P) network.

“Here in America we create new opportunities out of adversity, not punitive laws,” said Jackson. “It is the fans that drive the success of the music business; I wish this would not be forgotten.”

The recording industry, blaming illegal music file-swapping and CD burning for lackluster sales, is preparing hundreds of civil lawsuits against people it suspects of music piracy.

Jackson, whose own record sales have suffered recently, suggests the that industry figures and music fans work in tandem to solve the problem.