Senate Moves to Outlaw P2P Applications

Orrin Hatch, Senate Judiciary Committee chair has moved his focus to P2P applications, claiming that they encourage children and teenagers to infringe copyright.

In a recent statement, he said: “It is illegal and immoral to induce or encourage children to commit crimes. Tragically, some corporations now seem to think that they can legally profit by inducing children to steal. Some think they can legally lure children into breaking the law with false promises of ‘free music.'”

Fairly emotive language. Given that FTP software and email are much more popular ways to distribute potentially infringing content, will legislation curbing those applications be next? Who makes the decision on what is an appropriate program? Clearly the legislation can be misused to stifle the development of legitimate applications and businesses.

The bill is backed by the RIAA and co-sponsored by Senate majority leader Bill Frist, Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy.

Hatch has argued that the new bill will not make devices such as iPods and CD recorders illegal – indeed the freedom to make non-infringing copies goes all the way 1984 Sony Betamax case where the US Supreme Court ruled that VCRs and similar copying devices were legal. Hatch asserts that the bill only targets companies that “intentionally induce” consumers to infringe copyrights – but the law is vague enough to allow it to be targeted at many common devices, say P2P groups such as P2P United.

The RIAA regard the legislation as tightly focussed, and RIAA chair and CEO Mitch Bainwol praised it in a statement this week: “This bill places the spotlight squarely on the bad actors who have hijacked a promising technology for illicit means and ignoble profits. Legitimate uses of peer-to-peer are upheld, while those who intentionally lure consumers into breaking the law are held to account. Under this legislation, the path to legitimacy remains clear: Respect the law and block the exchange of works the copyright owner has not authorized.”

The sponsors of this bill are being blinkered into a view that is entirely concerned with the profits of one group – the music industry. The backers of the Induce act are rallying towards just one group at the moment, because that’s where the money is.

What about all of the legitimate applications for P2P software? P2P technology has a promising, legal, future ahead of it if it does not get hobbled by these misinformed people.

Take, for example, the BBC’s Interactive Media Player project. The only way to distribute this content economically is to rely on a P2P network – yet all content will covered by a digital rights management system.

Of course, the bill will only outlaw the production of P2P applications within the US – it has no teeth elsewhere, and will not apply to programs developed abroad. Using a P2P application is not illegal – he will have to outlaw the possession of such a program to have any real effect. And they wouldn’t do that, would they? Don’t bet on it – remember it was Hatch who suggested the development of software to destroy the computers of people who downloaded illegal music files.

More details on BBC iMP

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?