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Another Blunder: RIAA and Anti-Terrorism Legislation
By Jon Newton,
(more articles from this author)
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The trouble with being the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is: people will believe just about anything attributed to it. And with excellent reason. It claims to represent the industry but has an unfortunate tendency to repeatedly end up with egg on its collective face.

Last week the RIAA apparently tried to use the PATRIOT anti-terrorism law to ease itself into a position where it could launch attacks on p-2-p computer systems without risking prosecution - or anything else.

"The proposed text would have exempted [the RIAA] from lawsuits 'any impairment of the ability of data, a program, system or information, resulting from measures taken by an owner of a copyright'," David Coursey summed it up in an October 18 ZDNet report.

Or, as this October 15 story said, "An RIAA-drafted amendment according to a draft obtained by Wired News would immunize all copyright holders - including the movie and e-book industry - for any data losses caused by their hacking efforts or other computer intrusions 'that are reasonably intended to impede or prevent' electronic piracy."

Record, movie and software industry executives are going blind trying to find ways to stop people from downloading their products without paying for the privilege.

As described by sources at the RIAA, one method uses software to pass itself off as a file-swapper online and, having located a computer offering a certain song, "attempts to block other potential traders from downloading the song", said John Borland in an October 16 ZDNet story.

"Already a potentially contentious plan, the recording industry inadvertently sparked a further wave of criticism last week with plans to protect its strategy from being undermined by a pending anti-terrorism bill.

"RIAA lobbyists sought a provision to the bill that would shield copyright holders for any damage done to computers in the pursuit of copyright protection - a goal that critics charged was too broad and might even give the group the ability to spread viruses in the pursuit of pirates.

"'We referred to it as the 'license to virus'," said one congressional staffer. 'It would have given them the incentive to employ lots of hackers trying to figure out how to stop (MusicCity), Morpheus or Audiogalaxy.'

"An RIAA spokesman said the group was simply trying to protect its existing tools, not expand them. "We have a legitimate concern that the measure currently being debated could unintentionally take away a remedy currently available to us under law that helps us combat piracy," said RIAA spokesman Jano Cabrera."

Over at the RIAA, an unattributed page lead headed "The False Anti-Terrorism Rumor Debunked," declares:

"We would like to take this opportunity to clear up a misconception that has been spread around the Internet and the media faster than we can respond to it. Contrary to what you may have seen, read or heard the recording industry never lobbied congress to give us the ability to hack into PCs, plant viruses, destroy MP3 files on people's computers, and worse. That is complete nonsense, and totally untrue.

"Allow us to present the facts: Ever since we won the Napster case, we've been asked: what are you going to do about peer-to-peer services like Gnutella which have no centralized directory? A lawsuit can't shut them down. What will you do? And we've said that the real solution - the long-term solution - is a marketplace solution. That we have to get into the marketplace and offer not only a legitimate alternative, but a better alternative that will attract consumers because of the value we provide.

"But we've also said that there were technical measures that could be used to address the problem. We didn't get very specific about what those technical measures were, but we always made clear that we would rely on technological solutions to address technological problems.

"And in fact, a number of companies have developed the technology for these technical measures. Some of them may already be in use, but at RIAA, we've been analyzing the law to make sure that using these technical measures would be completely lawful."

[Nice one ; ]

"A couple of weeks ago, the Senate made public for the first time the anti-terrorism legislation it had privately been drafting. And when we looked at it, we found that one of the provisions in this massive bill would have changed existing law in a way that would prevent us from using technical measures that would otherwise have been perfectly lawful.

"The provision wasn't aimed at anything we were doing or thinking of doing. Nor was it aimed at technical measures used by ISPs, and eBay, and other businesses to protect the integrity of their products and their systems.

"But inadvertently, this change in the law would have prevented us from using technical measures to protect copyrighted works."

[Another nice one.]

"When we discovered the change, we brought it to the attention of the Department of Justice; the Senate staff working on the bill; and other industry groups. The staff confirmed that the effect on us was inadvertent, and asked us to propose a fix, a 'patch' to eliminate the problem for our industry. We did so - based on suggestions from the Department of Justice and Senate staff.

"Ultimately, the Senate staff figured out a way to change their original provision to eliminate its unintended effect, and that worked just fine for us. And it worked for a whole lot of other industry groups that also felt that this provision had to be fixed - the ISP community, telecom companies, the NetCoalition, the Chamber of Commerce, as well as content industries like motion pictures and music.

"There is nothing unusual about what happened here, especially in the hectic closing days of a Congressional session. But somehow, it became a story that we were looking for special new powers to hack into personal computers.

"What's worse - we were accused of equating Internet piracy with terrorism. We may take Internet piracy seriously, but we're not insane.

"It's one thing to be criticized for what we do - that's fair game. But to be vilified for what we don't do - that's very disheartening.

"Unfortunately, we get a lot of that. Half of what is written about us is just plain wrong. And that's why we really do appreciate you taking the time to read this, giving us a chance to set the record straight on this one."

The RIAA spin doctors are good.

But why do they always remind me of tobacco company apologists?

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