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Senator Hatch rides again: Napster hearings

Round two, letter to Dubya

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US Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican, Utah) is wasting no time in mounting a challenge to the recording industry, which recently scored a technical knockout over Napster in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling paves the way for the recording industry to shut Napster down before the case is heard.

Hatch hinted in a speech Wednesday that he might consider holding hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which he serves as chairman; but in an open letter to the President he suggests that this is already in the works.

"I believe the Judiciary Committee will need to hold hearings on the [Ninth Circuit] decision's possible implications and to get an update on developments in the online music market. I will consult with my Ranking Member and other interested parties, and will likely look into the matter in the coming weeks," the letter says.

One of the more regrettable features of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which Hatch incidentally sponsored, is some carefully-worded vagueness which all but ensures that when there's a copyright dispute like this one, whoever can afford to spend the most on legal expenses will win.

Napster is at a clear disadvantage under the law as it is written, and Hatch seems to have this in mind where he writes, "my feeling about this Ninth Circuit decision is a gnawing concern that this legal victory for the record labels may prove pyrrhic or short-sighted from a policy perspective."

He just can't seem to get over the sheer unfairness of what's happening. "By ordering the lower court to impose a preliminary injunction -- before a trial on the merits, mind you -- on this service that had developed a community of over 50 million music fans, [the Ninth Circuit ruling] could have the effect of shutting down Napster entirely, depriving more than 50 million consumers access to a music service they have enjoyed."

Hatch, incidentally, is himself a musician. Perhaps his own business contacts with recording-industry piranha have disposed him to keep such a jaundiced eye on the RIAA and its minions.

In any case, one imagines that the threat of another round of public hearings might just motivate the industry to reach an accommodation with Napster. What's at stake for Napster, obviously, is its very survival, and the industry may feel that its upper hand is so strong that it can squash it like a bug.

But what's at stake for the industry, ultimately, is the possibility that Congress might just tighten up all the loopholes which their lobbyists so slyly wove into the DMCA, and that's a risk they dare not take, regardless of how well situated they are at the moment.

Anyone wishing to encourage the Senator to keep up the pressure may send him an e-mail memo at this address. ®

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