Conservative group savages anti-P2P bill

Political wrangling over a copyright bill that could imperil some MP3 players heats up in the Senate before a vote next Thursday.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read
The nation's oldest conservative group has become the latest and most vocal critic of an anti-file-swapping bill that foes say could target products like Apple Computer's iPod.

The American Conservative Union (ACU), which holds influential Republican activists and former senators on its board of directors, is running newspaper and magazine advertisements that take a humorous jab at the so-called Induce Act--and slams some conservative politicians for supporting it.

"This is the Hollywood liberals trying to crush innovation," said ACU deputy director Stacie Rumenap. "What's sad is that they've got Republicans on their side." A Senate committee vote on the bill is scheduled for Thursday.

The original version of the Induce Act said that anyone who induces any violation of copyright law could be legally responsible, a phrase that has alarmed Silicon Valley manufacturers and led Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to say he would consider less sweeping alternatives. A version that Hatch's office privately circulated on Friday afternoon, seen by CNET News.com, clarifies that a company must engage in "conscious and deliberate affirmative acts" of inducement to be found liable.

But technology companies were skeptical that it would eliminate their concerns. "The problem is that it doesn't look like they're willing to preserve the Sony Betamax standard for the cause of action of inducement," said Markham Erickson, associate general counsel for NetCoalition, which represents companies including Google, Yahoo, and CNET Networks, publisher of News.com.

In the 1984 Supreme Court decision referred to as the Betamax ruling, the court said VCRs were legal to sell because they were "capable of substantial noninfringing uses." Technology companies worry that by targeting operators of peer-to-peer networks, the Induce Act could erode the legal protections that shield other hardware and software makers from legal liability.

Mitch Glazier, the chief lobbyist for the Recording Industry Association of America, said in a recent interview that the concerns about the iPod being imperiled were unfounded: "The original Induce Act focused on the totality of the circumstances. There's no way that a company that produces great digital rights management for a licensed product is ever going to be shown to want to profit from piracy."

The ACU's advertisement claims the Induce Act "attacks consumers' right to use technologies" and enriches "Hollywood fat cats." It is running in conservative-leaning publications including the Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times and National Review.

On Monday, it will be joined by an ad from NetCoalition that says "Don't Let Congress Make Him Your Next Portable Music Player" alongside a photograph of a traveling musician outfitted with an absurd amount of musical gear. It will run in the political publication Roll Call and then local newspapers.

Republican supporters of the Induce Act include Hatch and Tennessee Sens. Bill Frist and Lamar Alexander.