New bill allows tech measures to fight P-to-P piracy

Representative Howard L. Berman introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday that aims to foil peer-to-peer (P-to-P) piracy by giving copyright holders the ability to employ a variety of technological tools such as file blocking, redirection, spoofs and decoys.

The widely anticipated bill targets decentralized P-to-P networks such as Morpheus, which have recently become the focus of copyright holders' attention given their swelling number of users and the difficulty they present when it comes to cracking down on piracy. Unlike in the case of Napster Inc., the new P-to-P networks do not have a central server that can be shut down. Instead, the file-swapping takes place only through individual users' computers.

In introducing the bill, Berman told Congress that while there is no "silver bullet" to stop piracy on decentralized P-to-P networks, he hoped to "enable responsible usage of technological self-help measures to stop copyright infringements on P-to-P networks."

The California Democrat proposed a general safe harbor rule under which copyright holders would be able to employ technological measures to protect their copyright works, provided these measures do not damage users' computers and files or cause economic loss of more than US$50 per impairment.

The bill does not specify what technologies can be used, but instead outlines the perimeters for their use. Berman has suggested in the past, however, that methods such as spoofing and file blocking could be employed.

The law states, however, that copyright holders must notify the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) of the technologies they intend to employ to fight against piracy before they use them. This clause would make the DOJ the watchdog for antipiracy measures.

Additionally, the bill stipulates that affected file traders and their Internet service providers (ISPs) should be able to get all relevant information regarding interdiction activities.

"Contrary to widespread, if uninformed speculation, our legislation is narrowly crafted, with strict bounds on acceptable behavior by the copyright owners," Berman said in a statement.

Still, opponents fear that the bill essentially authorizes powerful copyright holders such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. to hack file traders' computers.

The Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) released a statement Thursday offering general support for Berman's bill, however, saying that the group applauds the congressman's efforts to offer technological rather than regulatory solutions to piracy.

Berman's bill is just the latest in a series of efforts to fight the growth of online piracy. Other proposed bills, such as that introduced by Senator Fritz Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina, have been criticized for being too broad. Hollings' bill aims to place digital rights management controls in all electronic consumer devices, a move that civil rights advocates say would step on fair use rights.

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