Congressman wants ISPs to be Copyright Police

With warrentless wiretapping sweeping the US, a leading congressman is proposing similar measures for the Internet. This isn't an attempt at 'fighting terror' but instead a new measure to reduce so-called 'piracy' by making the ISPs the police force

Rep. Howard Berman - 'the representative from Hollywood'When it comes to legislation, the Internet is, for many of the US’ congressional branch, the proverbial unknown quantity. The majority of US politicians are lawyers, and their staffers, trained as they are in law, PR, media relations and other such subjects, simply don’t seem to grasp what the Internet is about.

It seems then, that instead of hiring, or listening to people who will tell them the truth, or at least explain what happens in a way they can understand, they listen to lobbyists who tell them a bunch of lies, and hand over some cash to ‘prove it’s true’. There can be little other reason for the actions of Congressman Howard L. Berman at a recent US Chamber of Commerce panel on ‘antipiracy’ held in Hollywood.

Variety is reporting that at the end of this get together, Berman promised legislation that will require ISPs to send warning letters to their users, if they access ‘pirated content’. He has reportedly said he’ll introduce legislation to this effect soon, maybe next month.

Now, whilst Congressman Berman is in some ways being a good politician, and representing his constituents (his district covers Hollywood) in this he will be acting in no-one’s best interests, except those of the rights-holding clearing houses. This scheme differs only slightly from the current questionable practice of sending letters, or filing John Doe suits, and attempting to intimidate regular citizens into paying large sums of money, by making the ISPs send the letters out automatically, without a rights holder noticing, and collecting evidence.

There are some problems, however, with the basic feasibility of this scheme. They are:

  1. There is no easy way to tell if data being transmitted via a protocol such as bit-torrent, is protected by copyright at all
  2. There is then no way to tell if the data is being transmitted by the rights holder, or with their permission.
  3. Even if the data is copyrighted, and without the rights-holder’s permission, it may still fall under fair use.
  4. ISPs are having enough problems with network capacity. To then have to devote more money and manpower to this will reduce further their ability to expand their services to cope with the latest demands.
  5. Finally, since at least 95% of all material on the net is copyrighted to someone; it will take only a day or so before every net subscriber has acquired enough letters to warrant disconnecting their service.

Eric Clifford, founder of Fair Use day likened such legislation to “an information police state”. He then added, “what happens if I access my music files at home remotely?”

Of course, such a system would only work if everyone only used sequential, single-source, plain text data streams. Any requirement for ISPs to be able to monitor usage in the way Berman wants, would have to require this, and so it makes online identity theft easy and simple , no encryption, nothing from multiple sources, or out of order. In short, he wants to cripple one of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century, in order to preserve the 1970s business practices of some parasitic middlemen, whose entire reason for being is to make money off other people’s creative efforts. Rep. Berman, for your own sake, fire the fools advising you of things like this, and start listening to someone who knows what they’re talking about.

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