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Copyright vigilantes ride P2P shotgun

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A Democrat Congressman is proposing a bill that would legalise techniques to disrupt the operation of file sharing networks, such as KaZaA and Morpheus.

Contrary to some reports, Howard Berman's bill falls short of giving carte blanche to the launch of distributed denial of service attacks but it would permit a number of aggressive tactics.

According to a statement by the Californian congressman (who represents a district next to Burbank and Hollywood, the heart of Entertainment USA) the widespread availability of copyright works and legal actions need to be supplemented by "technological self-help measures" in order to foil P2P piracy.

"Copyright owners could employ a variety of technological tools to prevent the illegal distribution of copyrighted works over a P2P network - tools such as interdiction, decoys, redirection, file-blocking, and spoofs," said Berman.

As it stands such tactics may fall foul of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, hence Berman's proposal for legislative changes.

"Obviously, legislation must be narrowly crafted, with strict bounds on acceptable behaviour by the copyright owner," Berman cautioned. "A copyright owner should not be allowed to damage the property of a P2P file trader or any intermediaries, including ISPs. Or, for example, I wouldn't want to let a particularly incensed copyright owner introduce a virus that would disable the computer from which copyrighted works are made available to a decentralized, P2P network."

There are doubts that the measures would prove effective and a spokeswoman for Morpheus' parent company StreamCast Networks told the The Washington Post that the proposals amounted to the creation of a "posse of copyright vigilantes".

Nonetheless the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) has welcomed Berman's ideas, which would effectively give copyright holders enforcement powers. ®

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