July 22, 2004

Two steps back  

This could be a monster story, although I wouldn't be surprised if the bill gets killed in committee. Basically, Orrin Hatch wants to hold tech companies liable for copyright infringements perpetrated with their technology -- even if the technology isn't strictly designed for that purpose! Depending on how broadly it's construed, this could mean the end of everything from file sharing protocols to CD burners and mp3 players, and perhaps beyond. (Does this mean the recording industry can sue Al Gore for inventing the internet?)

Make no mistake, this bill is designed to stifle the creation of new technologies. Thanks to enforcement problems in the digital environment and the huge incentives for individuals to seek out or even distribute files online, the recording industry is fighting an unwinnable war that looks, in fact, a lot like the war on drugs: massive resources are devoted to tracking down the perpetrators, disproportionate penalties are exacted, and no progress is made. This bill solves the problem by eliminating the technology that makes the digital environment possible in the first place.

The good news is, there's no way this can happen, at least, not in the long run. The shift in our collective conception of intellectual property is already taking place, partly because of the internet and new ways of dealing with information, but also due to the influence of postmodern thought and art. This kind of mass conceptual change will ultimately be reflected in the law.


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