Congress has a history of handing generous gifts, in the form of legislation, to the entertainment industry. The entertainment industry is very appreciative, and hands generous gifts, in the form of money, back to them. Copyright terms have been extended every time Disney’s “Steamboat Willy” gets close to entering the public domain. (It’s happened eleven times in the past forty years.) The chilling effect of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was ignored when congress was gift-wrapping it for the record and movie companies. Fritz Hollings has demanded that the IT industry hobble their hardware to protect his Hollywood contributors. And now congress is considering a bill proposed by Hollywood Congressmen Howard Berman that would let the movie and record companies become internet vigilantes, disrupting file trading networks and even hacking into individual computers to remove files they suspect may be illegal copies of their material.
At the moment they’re denying they’d go into individual PCs. Hillary Rosen, president of the RIAA says “I can't foresee any scenario where it would be in our interest to go into anybody's computer and delete a file." Hey, if you can’t trust the recording industry, who can you trust?
The denials fall apart if you examine the bill. It specifically talks about such a scenario, and limits the industries liability if someone’s system is damaged. The user will have to prove that more than $250 worth of damage was caused, and of course prove who caused it, a nearly impossible task. Imagine finding that the PowerPoint Presentation you’ve been working on for two weeks has vanished. Try to prove it’s worth at least $250. Perhaps you shouldn’t have named it “Born In The USA.”
The only limit on the RIAA and the MPAA would be a requirement that they get permission from the Department of Justice before initiating their attacks. Not permission to go after a specific person, permission to use an attack on anyone they suspected of having illegal content on their computer – in other words, everyone with an internet connection. At the moment they’re discussing broad based attacks on file sharing (P2P) networks. These include Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, which make the network immobile by jamming it with bogus requests, and putting up fake files with enticing names. Hackers will quickly figure out how to thwart these attacks, providing Rosen and her cronies with an excuse to escalate the war. Given their history, and the history of government gifts to the industry, it is inevitable they’ll be attacking individual PCs if this becomes law.
If someone breaks into your house and steals one of your CDs you do not have the right to break into their house to get it back. The police have that right, but only after they’ve convinced a judge that their suspicion is reasonable. Their search warrant will only be valid for a specific address. They’re not allowed to break down every door in the neighborhood to retrieve your copy of ABBA’s Greatest Hits. They are allowed (and in this case should be required to) ridicule your taste. And in this hypothetical example, it would never get that far, because the value of what was stolen is too trivial for them to bother with. They will devote their resources to tracking down more serious thefts.
This is one reason the government hasn’t bothered much with P2P networks. It’s a pretty trivial crime. That is, unless you ask the entertainment industry, whose numbers would be laugh-out-loud-funny if their proposed solutions weren’t so draconian.
Creative accounting was invented and perfected by the recording industry back when Edison was cranking out wax cylinders. They guess how many songs are swapped, claim each one costs them the eight cent royalty they’d receive if it had been purchased, and work that out to billions of dollars per year.
It is impossible to accurately estimate how many files are downloaded via decentralized systems, and claiming that each download represents a loss is ridiculous. Many people, myself included, download songs they already own because grabbing a file is more convenient than ripping one from their legal CD. (I’ve already purchased about 90% of the song’s I’ve downloaded. In the case of records I’ve replaced with CDs, I’ve purchased them twice.) Many people download out of curiosity, to check out an artist, which often leads to a sale. Most folks delete whatever they don’t like. Only 12.67% of all music downloaded is actually saved and listened to illegally. (Hey, making up fake numbers and spouting them with authority is fun! No wonder these clowns do it so often.)
The RIAA member's most profitable year in history was the year Napster was going full force. After shutting them down they experienced their first sales drop in decades – a whole 3% decrease. This was when the economy was starting to tank and their products were increasingly bland and uninspiring, but they blame the drop on file swapping. Meanwhile, The Beatles “One,” a collection of the world’s most easily downloaded songs, has sold twenty-five million copies. Their claim that this is costing them billions is as hollow as the teenage argument that downloading an entire album and burning it to a CD isn’t theft. But teenagers don’t give congress weasels buttloads of cash. (As we learned in a previous article, one buttload = more money than you’ll make in your entire life.)
This isn’t even a bill yet. It’s being debated right now, and may never even reach the floor. But the fact that it’s even being considered should scare you. If it does become a bill, be sure to contact your representatives and let them know how you feel. You can be certain they’ll pay close attention to your letters - as long as your envelope contains a check in the amount of one buttload.
A previous THMC article on Holling's obeisance to the entertainment industry
© 2002 Dave Hitt