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Vigilante Justice for copyright holders

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Vigilante Justice for Copyright Holders


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Big Media has become adept at using lawsuits to smother centralized file-swapping services like Napster. But peer-to-peer networks that have no central server are another matter — there’s no one to sue. Representative Howard Berman (D-California) has drafted a bill that would exempt copyright owners from computer-fraud laws if they fight back using measures such as “interdiction, decoy, redirection, file-blocking, and spoofing.” Some might call it vigilantism. Berman calls it “technological self-help.”

WIRED: Empowering businesses to act against P2P networks is an extreme response to piracy.

BERMAN: It’s less draconian than the notion that no piece of hardware can be produced unless it has protective technology mandated by the government. The beauty of my approach is that it empowers copyright owners but also puts limits on their ability to go beyond merely protecting their property. They can’t do anything that would damage the people using the networks.

How can you make sure of that?

We would require copyright owners using disruptive technologies to submit them to the Justice Department. And we let P2P participants take a copyright owner to court if their computer is damaged.

What will constitute probable cause for a copyright owner to take action? If a company can take action against a network unilaterally, isn’t that a violation of due process?

I don’t need the government’s permission to lock my doors. And you don’t need the government’s permission to encrypt your own communications. All this legislation does is empower private property owners to use that sort of technological self-help. This is not an effort to take the government adjudicatory process and delegate it to private parties.

There’s a big difference between dead bolts and dirty tricks.

What’s the dirty trick? I thought the dirty trick was downloading something you don’t own, didn’t buy, didn’t rent. And doing so in a fashion that no one could possibly think is within the reasonable definition of fair use. That, to me, is the dirty trick. Some of these methods, like spoofing and interdiction, aren’t dirty tricks at all but sensible, reasonable, and appropriate ways to protect property.

Not everyone uses P2P technology to pirate songs. Won’t messing with these networks deny legitimate as well as illegitimate uses?

While these P2P networks have some usefulness, there really can’t be any doubt that their primary use is sharing millions, perhaps billions, of copyrighted works. This bill fundamentally affects their whole business method.

- Brendan I. Koerner


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