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Anti-P2P lawmaker gets top Senate spot

Sen. Orrin Hatch once suggested that music pirates' PCs be destroyed. Now he's head of the panel writing copyright laws.

Orrin Hatch, the senator who once said the recording industry should be able to destroy music pirates' PCs, will be in charge of a new Senate panel responsible for writing copyright laws.

Hatch, a Utah Republican, on Thursday was formally named chairman of the Senate Intellectual Property subcommittee. It's responsible for overseeing the U.S. Copyright Office and drafting legislation and treaties relating to copyright and patent laws.

Orrin Hatch
Sen. Orrin Hatch

A few years ago, Hatch was one of the more vocal Washington critics of the Recording Industry Association of America. He urged the RIAA to be more flexible in licensing music to online distributors and even called a federal appeals court decision against Napster "shortsighted from a policy perspective."

But when Napster's progeny arose in the form of peer-to-peer networks, Hatch's political views seemed to flip-flop. Instead of defending novel--and disruptive--technologies, Hatch became one of their most vocal political antagonists.

Last year, he and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont introduced the "Induce Act," an anti-file-swapping bill that foes said could target products like Apple Computer's iPod. Leahy is the senior Democrat on Hatch's new subcommittee.

The Induce Act drew stiff opposition from Internet service providers, the electronics industry, and even some conservative groups that had typically been Hatch's allies. As a result, it was not enacted last year.

"They had this on the fast track," said Gigi Sohn, president of advocacy group Public Knowledge. "Then they said, 'OK, let's sit down and try to negotiate.' My sense is that they've learned their lesson: If you try to pass legislation that gives Hollywood control over technology, it's going to fall flat on its face." (Neither Hatch nor Leahy has reintroduced the Induce Act in the new congressional session that began this year.)

Hatch had been chairman of the Senate Judiciary panel but could not retain his seat because of term limits. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., became the current chairman and created the new subcommittee for Hatch to run.

In 2003, Hatch gained some unwanted notoriety when he suggested during a hearing that copyright holders should be allowed to remotely destroy the computers of music pirates. "I'm interested in doing that," Hatch said. "That may be the only way you can teach someone about copyright...That would be the ultimate way of making sure" no more copyright is infringed.

A day later, Hatch slightly backpedaled from that statement in a brief press release saying: "I do not favor extreme remedies--unless no moderate remedies can be found."

Hatch is also an amateur songwriter of music with titles like "Our Gracious Lord" and "Climb Inside His Loving Arms."