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P2P hacking bill may be amended

A controversial proposal in Congress to legalize hacking of peer-to-peer networks won't likely be enacted this year. Instead, the bill will be rewritten.

WASHINGTON--A proposal to let copyright owners hack into and disrupt peer-to-peer networks will be revised, a congressional aide said Wednesday.

Alec French, an aide to bill author Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., defended his boss' ideas but acknowledged that some critics had made reasonable points about the controversial proposal.

"He plans to significantly redraft the bill to accommodate reasonable concerns before reintroduction in the 108th (Congress)," French said during an afternoon event at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Introduced in July, the P2P Piracy Prevention Act says copyright holders would have the right to disable, interfere with, block or otherwise impair a peer-to-peer node that they suspect is distributing their intellectual property without permission. The bill does not specify what techniques--such as viruses, worms, denial-of-service attacks, or domain name hijacking--would be permissible.

Because there is a near-zero chance the bill will be enacted during the last few months of this congressional session, Berman would have to re-introduce it in the next Congress, which convenes in January 2003. Berman represents California's San Fernando Valley, adjacent to Los Angeles and Hollywood's cluster of entertainment firms, and is viewed as likely to keep his job in next month's elections.

"Unfortunately, theft of copyrighted works is the predominant use of peer-to-peer networks today," French said. "Peer-to-peer networks are primarily used today for the unauthorized public distribution and reproduction of copyrighted works."

The measure attracted instant criticism from consumer groups, academics and technologists. Berman "welcomes suggestions" about how to eliminate problems while still maintaining the general approach of the bill, French said.

Also speaking at Wednesday's event was Bruce Mehlman, assistant secretary of commerce.

Striking a middle-of-the-road tone, Mehlman urged Hollywood and Silicon Valley "to cooperate" over finding technological solutions to protect copyrighted content without additional government intervention. "All fair use is not piracy, but neither is all piracy fair use," Mehlman said.

"I do hope and believe that government can play a constructive role," Mehlman said.

Co-sponsoring the bill with Berman is Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., chairman of the House subcommittee on intellectual property. Berman is the top Democrat on the panel.