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Spoofing By Law

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 7/5/02 issue of R&R One of the prevailing attitudes that music pirates trot out when engaging in their favorite activity is that it's all too late. The technology is there, and it's not going away: the genie is out of the bottle, and we, the defenseless copyright holders, are not going to be able to put it back in. Ever. We can do it, they say, so we will, and there's nothing you can do about it, since we are the ones with technology on our side.

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Not if Congressman Howard Berman, (D-CA), whose district includes Hollywood, has anything to say about it. He'd like to make it legal for you to fight back, using technology to combat technology.

Here's the issue: the very laws that are meant to protect your intellectual property include provisions that make it a sticky situation to use any sort of code-based techniques to try to repel the pirates. Berman aims to change that. He says that it's not fair that only the bad guys get to use tech in this battle.

"While P2P (peer-to-peer) technology is free to innovate new and more efficient methods of distribution that further exacerbate the piracy problem, copyright owners are not equally free to craft technological responses." So said a statement released by Berman's office.

Some of the labels are not waiting for Berman's legislation to get passed: they are already flooding the biggest file piracy sites with bogus files that look just like the real thing, but are nothing more than 3 to 4 minutes of tone or silence, or the hook from a song played over and over for the length of the file.

The Berman bill, would act similarly to the Audio Home Recording Act in that it would not guarantee anyone the right to use proactive technology tools to protect their copyrighted works, but it would protect them against any potential legal repercussions for doing so.

Berman's office said that they were trying to reconcile the potential penalties under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Amazingly, the file-swapping companies had some problems with this: most cried foul, saying that they weren't at fault and that even though Berman's bill would specifically not allow virus attacks and other potentially damaging manuevers, their networks could be at risk.

Could a potential cyberwar break out? You bet. Aggressive defense of copyright is a requirement to maintain those copyrights: if intellectual property owners don't use all legal means to protect their rights, they may find their rights up for grabs should a case hit the courts. That's all the impetus a record label will need to finally fight back.

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