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Howard Berman: Twit of the Millenium

This is a letter that I sent to CNET and Rep. Howard Berman. It concerns his misguided attempt to pass the infamous "P2P Hacking" legislation, allowing corporations that feel they have had their copyrights infringed to hack the infriger's systems. C-Net posted my response, but edited it for content. The full text is below

Berman's "Just deserts for scofflaws"

C-Net's watered down version of my article

Dear Mr. Berman,

Thank you for your enlightened approach to the problem of P2P piracy; a government sponsored hack in to P2P networks. It is always scary when technological illiterates create technological solutions. By creating the "anti-DMCA" you have shown that congress truly has lack of understanding of the side effects of their legislation. Please excuse me for my idealistic attempt to point out the true magnitude of the mistake you are about to make.

P2P can be used for legal and illegal purposes. So can the telephone, a newspaper or a church's bulletin board. People are responsible for their own actions and there are laws designed to prosecute people for these illegal actions.

The legal uses of P2P are rarely heard on because they are not "sexy" or political. P2P allows artists and listeners to connect directly. The proliferation of unique works created and distributed on the Internet is staggering. They would have never existed if it wasn't for the unique distribution system that is P2P. It is distinctly possible that the P2P could evolve in such a way that the large recording corporations may be out of the music business altogether. The artists could connect with their fans directly and reap the full benefit of their efforts. The corporations are very scared of this scenario so they lobby individuals like you to do their bidding.

What happens when the technological procedures used by the copyright holders have destructive side effects? Perhaps one possibility would be to clog up the network to prevent ANY traffic from getting through. Of course, boring stuff like banking transactions and online securities trades would be affected. But that's ok because Timmy was prevented from downloading the newest Hoobastank release.

Significant interference with key portions of the Internet can have expensive consequences. As proof, take a good look at the economic losses attributed to the last major Internet virus. Sure we have "remedies" in your bill, but it’s a bunch of users vs. the giant corporations. Once the corporations do a real number and create a couple billion dollars worth of havoc on legitimate computers, what have you accomplished? You have not affected piracy appreciably and many innocent people have been affected. The Constitution reads "We the People", not "Us Corporations", Howard.

While we are on the subject on the Constitution, lets talk about that pesky little document. Where exactly is due process in all this? Will Sony have a court order? Will a judge supervise the destructive tactics? How will they know I am in violation without looking at my hard disk? Am I to understand the ability of P2P to operate will be on the whim of the recording industry? We have already seen the chilling effect they have had over free speech in the academic community with their preemptive lawsuit again Professor Felton at Princeton.

Perhaps some new artist has legally sampled a song under protections of "fair use" creating a new work. This is commonly done the in the music industry. Now lets say some corporate flunky lawyer decides he doesn't think its fair use. So now instead of using the judicial system, we have a return the Old West in Cyberspace. You think someone's squattin' on your Copyright? Courts take too long, just take 'em out vigilante style.

Piracy is a very simple problem to resolve. Simply make it more attractive for the person to purchase the item in question. Software, music and used cars are the only consumer goods on the planet sold AS IS. The average record store has several thousand titles in stock. In most cases there are about 50 or so that you can actually listen to before you buy them. Don't like the product? Tough. Maybe the artist won't suck so much on the next release.

Additionally, most titles are not available in MP3 format. The public is hot over this new format because you can carry a lot of high quality music in a small package. Are they available through traditional channels? No. Why not? Because the music giants don’t want to sell on file for $3 when the can force you buy the CD for $15.

Of course, you need to spend a little time educating the public. People are not evil, just sometimes misguided. If treated respectfully, most will come around. However, some will not and that’s what the existing laws are for. The result of this approach would be AT LEAST the same percentage increase in sales that your bill would produce, without the headaches.

If my discussion up to this point has not reached you, let me put it in a way you can relate to. I believe that you and your constituents are creating a bill that is unconstitutional and thus illegal. Since you are using the telephone system for your illegal activities, I would like to sponsor my own bill, allowing individuals to interrupt your land based and cellular communications whenever they feel you are doing something improper.

If it passes, I would respectfully suggest that you learn to use smoke signals.

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