Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., whose district includes Hollywood territory, said Tuesday that copyright owners needed new legal protections to combat online piracy. Some of the labels' and studios' high-tech techniques for stopping online file traders might be illegal under anti-hacking laws, Berman said.
"While P2P (peer-to-peer) technology is free to innovate new and more efficient methods of distribution that further exacerbate the piracy problem, copyright owners are not equally free to craft technological responses," Berman said in a statement. "This is not fair."
The bill, which is still being drafted, would provide a shield against legal liability for copyright owners who used high-tech attacks to stop file trading. It would stop short of giving them the right to damage file-swappers' computers or spread viruses, however.
Berman's legislation reopens a debate sparked last year by abacked by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Last October, RIAA lobbyists said they were concerned that anti-terrorism legislation being rushed through Congress would block them from using these tools. They suggested language that they said would preserve their anti-piracy tactics.
Critics charged that the RIAA was trying to hijack the terrorism bill, and the language was dropped. But the imbroglio did provide an unanticipated window into what kinds of tactics copyright owners were considering to combat file swapping.
A Berman representative said the new legislation was unrelated to the RIAA's earlier proposal. An RIAA representative said only that the organization supported Berman's drive in concept.
"We are encouraged by the efforts of Congressman Berman to help develop ways to combat the growing problem of online music piracy," an RIAA spokesman said.
In the announcement of the bill, Berman cited some of the tools that would be protected by the legislation, and which copyright owners have expressed some interested in using.
These tactics include:
interdiction, in which a copyright owner floods a file swapper with false requests so that downloads can't get through;
redirection, in which a file swapper might be pointed to a site that doesn't actually have the files they're looking for;
and spoofing, in which a corrupt or otherwise undesirable file masquerades as a song, movie or other file that people are seeking.
Use of some of these tactics might be deemed illegal today under common law, state statutes, or the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Berman said.
File-swapping companies criticized the proposed legislation, saying it opened the door for copyright holders to launch "cyber warfare" on consumers.
"StreamCast does not condone hacking into consumers' computers," said Steve Griffin, CEO of StreamCast Networks, which distributes the popular Morpheus file-swapping software. The techniques Berman cited are "subversive tactics to attack the very person that media companies are trying to market to," Griffin said.