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US P2P Hacking Bill draws support, critics

Too vague, potentially dangerous?

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

US lawmakers last week sat down with proponents and opponents of a controversial bill that would allow copyright holders to use techniques critics compare to "hacking" to prevent content being pirated on peer-to-peer networks,

Kevin Murphy writes

.

At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property, a senior record industry executive and the bill's sponsors argued that the bill is the best way to stop P2P being used to pirate, while a public domain lobbyist said the bill was too vague and potentially dangerous.

The P2P Piracy Prevention Act would eliminate a copyright owner's legal liability for "disabling, interfering with, blocking, diverting, or otherwise impairing the unauthorized distribution, display, performance, or reproduction of his or her copyrighted work on a publicly accessible peer-to-peer file trading network."

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a new group that lobbies in favor of the public domain and an open internet testified that the bill is currently worded too vaguely, and could be open to abuse that would be harmful to internet users.

"These conditions leave the door wide open for abuse by the copyright owner and harm to computer users," Sohn testified. "[The conditions] conceivably would not prevent a copyright owner from cutting a user's DSL line or even his phone line, or knocking his satellite dish off his roof."

Representative Howard Berman, who introduced the bill, said there are sufficient safeguards in the bill to prevent this kind of thing. The bill says hacking, for want of a better word, is legal only if it "does not, without authorization, alter, delete, or otherwise impair the integrity of any computer file or data residing on the computer of a file trader."

"There have been some truly outrageous attacks on the P2P Piracy Prevention Act," Berman said. "If a copyright owner's impairing activity has some other effect, like knocking a corporate network offline, the copyright owner remains liable... a copyright owner can't send a virus to a P2P pirate, it can't remove any files on the pirate's computer, and it can't even remove files that include the pirated works."

While the bill says the copyright owner has to notify the Department of Justice of the technologies it intends to use to exercise its rights under the P2P Piracy Act, it does not specifically mention any technologies, leaving speculators to suggest viruses, intrusion, or denial of service attacks could be used.

One technology that seems a likely, and possibly harmless, fit comes from MediaDefender Inc. The company's president, Randy Saaf, testified at the hearing that MediaDefender's software can prevent files being traded without altering files or DoSing the suspected pirate.

Saaf said: "MediaDefender's computers hook up to the person using the P2P protocol being targeted and download the pirated file at a throttled down speed. MediaDefender's computers just try to sit on the other computers' uploading connections as long as possible, using as little bandwidth as possible."

By tying up the pirate's P2P connections while not eating too much bandwidth, the copyright holder can prevent others from accessing that file, Saaf argued. However, P2P trading software companies are already building features into their clients that attempt to identify and circumvent existing recording industry efforts, so it remains to be seen whether there is one cure-all technology for the P2P problem.

© ComputerWire

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