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House bill would cast FBI as copyright Pinkertons

P2P hackmeister Berman pulls out all the stops

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House bill would cast FBI as copyright Pinkertons
P2P hackmeister Berman pulls out all the stops
765 words

International terrorists will be able to sleep easier if US Representatives Lamar Smith (Republican, Texas) and Howard Berman (Democrat, California) have their way. A new bill Smith and Berman are sponsoring on behalf of their entertainment-industry patrons will divert limited FBI investigative resources from solving serious crimes and preventing terror attacks to waging a new War against File Sharing.

The FBI has long served as an unofficial 'copyright 911' organ at the pleasure of the media plutocracy, but to date it has fallen largely to the RIAA and MPAA to perform the legwork in discovering copyright miscreants. Berman's bill would ease that burden, saddling the FBI with responsibility to patrol the Internet, monitor P2P networks and root out evidence of copyright improprieties on its own.

According to the bill, "The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation shall (1) develop a program to deter members of the public from committing acts of copyright infringement by (A) offering on the Internet copies of copyrighted works, or (B) making copies of copyrighted works from the Internet without the authorization of the copyright owners; and (2) facilitate the sharing among law enforcement agencies, Internet service providers, and copyright owners of information concerning activities described in subparagraphs (A) and (B) of paragraph (1)."

While it's true that the Feds customarily involve themselves in cases of serious piracy, this legislation is calculated to bring them in on petty infractions that would normally be handled in the civil courts, like the recent $60K judgment against four university students who did nothing worse than index music files.

There's great economic wisdom in this: by criminalizing such minor misbehavior, the RIAA taps public funds to bankroll its petty squabbles. We should all be so lucky.

In addition to the FBI's new enforcement regimen, the DoJ will be burdened with its own Stalinist mandate to 'educate' the populace about the sacred nature of copyright:

"There shall be established within the Office of the Associate Attorney General of the United States an Internet Use Education Program. The purpose of the Internet Use Education Program shall be to (1) educate the general public concerning the value of copyrighted works and the effects of the theft of such works on those who create them; (2) educate the general public concerning the privacy, security, and other risks of using the Internet to obtain unauthorized copies of copyrighted works; (3) coordinate and consult with the Department of Education on compliance by educational institutions with applicable copyright laws involving Internet use; and (4) coordinate and consult with the Department of Commerce on compliance by corporations with applicable copyright laws involving Internet use."

Tellingly, there's no mandate for DoJ to educate the public about their rights to duplicate copyrighted works according to the doctrine of fair use. No confusing distinctions are to be made between copying legally-purchased media, which is a privilege granted by court precedents, and piracy, which is a crime. Indeed, 'making copies of copyrighted works from the Internet without the authorization of the copyright owners' is to be understood as a crime hands down.

Only the problem here is, fair use is not and never has been authorized by the copyright owners. It's authorized instead by the US Supreme Court. Berman is trying to do a legislative end-run around the Sony decision on behalf of his greedy Hollywood owners.

Speaking of which, RIAA President Cary Sherman gushed about the Smith/Berman bill in a recent press release:

"The Smith/Berman legislation will strengthen the hand of the FBI and other federal law enforcement officials to address the rampant copyright infringement occurring on peer-to-peer networks. This common-sense, bipartisan bill will help ensure that federal prosecutors across the country have the resources and expertise to fully enforce the copyright laws on the books -- especially against those who illegally distribute massive quantities of copyrighted music online," Sherman trilled.

Berman made himself famous last year by trying to legislate an exception to computer misuse laws for copyright owners wishing to hack P2P networks. Then, only last week, Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican, Utah) did him one better, recommending that copyright owners be granted an exception allowing them to destroy the computers of file traders.

But now Berman's back on top, turning the Federal Police into virtual Pinkertons bound in service of a cartel. We expect this of little third-world dictatorships rich in gem stones and tribal warlords, but it's always a bit startling to encounter it in a modern, industrialized nation. ®

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