Congressman takes aim at P-to-P piracy

U.S. Representative Howard L. Berman said Tuesday that he is taking aim at the “unbridled” piracy taking place over decentralized peer-to-peer (P-to-P) file sharing networks, by introducing legislation that would allow copyright holders to employ a variety of technological tools to prevent illegal trading.

The California Democrat previewed the legislation while speaking to the Computer and Communications Industry Association, saying that copyright holders have a disadvantage against P-to-P pirates under existing legislation.

“While P-to-P 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,” Berman said, according to a transcript of his speech provided by his office. “This is not fair.”

While the congressman said that he believes in the beneficial potential of P-to-P networks, he also thinks that most users engage in piracy, downloading “billions” of copyright protected works each month.

Berman is proposing that copyright holders be allowed to employ “technological self-help measures” such as file-blocking, redirection, spoofs, decoys and interdiction to stop illegal trading of their works.

Since these measures may be prohibited under certain state and federal laws, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Berman said that he is proposing that copyright holders be granted a safe harbor from liability for using such tools.

Although details of the proposed bill are not yet clear, as it is still being drafted, P-to-P companies have already expressed their dismay at the idea.

StreamCast Networks Inc., operator of the popular Morpheus file sharing network, released a statement Tuesday saying that it was “vehemently” opposed to Berman’s proposed legislation, and adding that it amounted to “an appalling attack on consumers’ rights.”

“[These] are not self-help tools, they are subversive tactics to attack the very person the media companies are trying to market to, the consumer,” said StreamCast Networks Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steve Griffin.

Berman’s proposed bill comes on the heels of slew of legislative efforts to curb piracy in the digital realm. Another bill, proposed by Senator Fritz Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina, seeks to incorporate digital rights management technologies in all consumer electronic devices. The Hollings bill has also drawn fire, as rights groups fear that it will substantially limit the way consumers use the content they purchase.

A spokeswoman for Berman said Wednesday that she doesn’t believe the Berman bill will run afoul of consumer rights groups, however, given that she “did not expect consumer groups to defend stealing.”

Berman is set to formally introduce the bill to Congress in the couple of weeks, the spokeswoman said, and is hoping for a quick mark-up of the legislation.