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Posted 26 Jul 2002 11:15:35 UTC

A new bill introduced in Congress Thursday aims to give the copyright industries the right to vandalize the computers of the users of peer-to-peer file sharing services. The bill, if passed, would give copyright owners exemption from liability for "disabling, interfering with, blocking, diverting, or otherwise impairing the unauthorized distribution, display, performance, or reproduction of his or her copyrighted work on a publicly accessible peer-to-peer file trading network."

Copyright holders would be required to notify the Justice Department when taking action under this legislation. However, they would not be required to notify the file trader until explicitly asked by the trader. The bill does not provide any way for a user to determine exactly which copyright holder interfered with his or her personal machine. Furthermore, the information provided to the Justice Department about the specific means of taking action would remain secret and might never be shared with their victims.

Perhaps ironically, the House of Representatives just last week approved a bill increasing the penalties for certain computer crimes. Now they wish to eliminate those penalties entirely for some in the media industries.

While RIAA Chair Hilary Rosen cheered the introduction of the bill, others questioned its wisdom. Ed Black, CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which includes among its membership such large corporations as Sun Microsystems and AOL Time Warner, "reject[ed] the premise of this bill that content owners should be entitled to 'vigilante justice' for suspected copyright violations." He noted further that "Hollywood moguls have long railed against illicit tampering with their protected content by 'hackers' and 'Internet pirates.' Now the Hollywood studios and the recording industry seek statutory authority for their own hacking, spoofing, and virus attacks, with the capability to shut down many Internet websites and services at their discretion."

The bill, H.R. 5211, was introduced by Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), whose district, perhaps not coincidentally, borders upon Hollywood and its concentration of large media companies. For his 2002 election campaign, Congressman Berman has received more than twice as much money from the TV/Movie/Music industry than from the next largest category. Indeed, according to opensecrets.org, no candidate has received more money from the television, movie, or music industries than Congressman Berman!

It is uncertain what chance this bill has for passage; although it is co-sponsored by several powerful Congressmen, it is also true that there are only a few weeks left in the Congressional session. But even if the bill fails this session, it is possible and indeed likely that it will be reintroduced in the future.

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