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Spotting a scam in sheep's clothing

StreamCast CEO Steve Griffin says legislation designed to rein in peer-to-peer file-swapping networks is less about curbing piracy and more about a desire to control new technologies.

There is a new threat to consumer's freedom and privacy, as well as to the future of the Internet.

Hollywood Congressman Howard Berman has proposed legislation that would effectively shut down peer-to-peer networks. His proposal calls for "technological self-help measures" such as interdiction, redirection, decoys, spoofing and file-blocking. This sort of action is a blatant declaration of cyberwarfare against consumers.

The battle over technology vs. content is nothing new. While it is natural to resist change, it is necessary for growth. This ongoing battle is best described in relation to the Betamax lawsuit in the 1980s in which two movie studios filed a lawsuit hoping to stop the manufacturing and distribution of Sony Betamax VCRs.

In fact, Jack Valenti, who heads the Motion Picture Association of America, went so far as to declare that "the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone." The Supreme Court sided with Sony. Not only did the sales of VCR boom, but a flood of new revenue streams for Hollywood was created.

In the 1940s, when radio was still considered a technological innovation by many American consumers, copyright holders were not being paid but consumers were nonetheless able to enjoy music for free. This technology first was used in homes and offices and eventually migrated to a mobile device: the automobile--not too different from digital music's route from desktops to MP3 players.

P2P: Live or let die

Pro: P2P lives
StreamCast CEO Steve Griffin says hands off P2P networks.

Con: P2P dies
Congressman Howard L. Berman has a bill to kill P2P piracy.

Congress might have responded as Congressman Berman now suggests by allowing the copyright holders to attack the owners and users of radios. They could have passed a law that allows copyright holders to interdict, redirect, decoy, spoof, signal-block or jam the radio airwaves preventing music from reaching consumers' radios.

Fortunately, no such law was passed.

History proves to be a valuable teacher. Had Congress permitted content owners to block or otherwise sabotage radio airwaves, radio might not exist as we know it today. In this situation, a very direct correlation exists where our elected representatives can determine a successful outcome of the struggle for content owners trying to keep up with the pace of technological innovation.

Authorizing copyright owners to break the law in order to stop alleged piracy is not a sensible or workable solution.
Authorizing copyright owners to break the law in order to stop alleged piracy is not a sensible or workable solution. Such a tactic amounts to vigilantism. Granting "safe harbor" or special immunity from current state and federal laws, such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, is nothing short of creating a license to sabotage file-sharing networks and potentially other existing or new technologies and its users. Even law enforcement officers are not above the law; copyright owners certainly should not be.

A recent article in the San Jose Mercury News found that "major record labels have launched an aggressive new guerrilla assault on the file-sharing networks by flooding online swapping services with bogus copies of popular songs." These actions substantiate the call to arms set forth in a memorandum leaked to the press last year from the Recording Industry Association of America's Hilary Rosen. Now it seems Hollywood recognizes that such tactics run afoul of state and federal laws and has thus convinced its congressman to create a law legalizing their illegal actions.

Congress has already given copyright owners a variety of tools to fight piracy, including the ability to force ISPs to identify suspected infringers, which was passed as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998. Once identified, suspected infringers can be brought into court and penalized for their activities (up to $150,000 per work infringed). Yet there has not yet been a single reported case of a copyright owner suing a peer-to-peer user for infringement. Makes you wonder if this is actually about piracy or if it's actually about controlling new technologies.

Makes you wonder if this is actually about piracy or if it's actually about controlling new technologies.
The most important thing is to work together to find common ground. Rather than fighting, suing and hacking like the content industry is doing, I am spending my energy trying to find solutions that benefit everyone including content creators, content owners, consumers and content communicators.

Consumers should contact their congressional representative and have an active voice in the so-called battle between technology and content. Rather than adopt a nonsensical law as proposed by the Hollywood congressman, Congress should facilitate a dialogue between the stakeholders in an effort to reach a workable solution to this very important issue. If this fails to happen, the consumer is the one who will ultimately lose.