Who Is Howard Berman?

Howard Berman (D-California) is co-sponsor with Howard Coble (R-North Carolina) of the Peer to Peer Piracy Bill). I’d like to make sure you know that Congressman Berman’s top five financial contributors (via PACs) are:

Walt Disney Co. $31,000
AOL Time Warner $28,050
Vivendi Universal $27,591
Viacom Inc. $13,000
News Corp. $11,750

Other major contributors include well-known intellectual property law firms in Los Angeles, like Irell and Manella, Phillips and Cohen, “the nation’s only law firm that is dedicated solely to representing whistleblowers,” Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca & Fischer, the Los Angeles entertainment firm, responsible for, among other things the Divx DVD scheme to charge users each time they viewed a Divx digital video. In fact the two top industries who have supported Mr. Berman are:

TV/Movies/Music $186,891
Lawyers/Law Firms $97,100

Now, granted, I’m just a naive digital medievalist from rural New Hampshire, but to me that looks like Mr. Berman isn’t so much interested in doing what’s right, or what’s best for his entire constituency, or even in doing what’s sensible. He’s acting in the best interests of his largest contributors, two groups who stand to benefit financially from his proposed legislation. Take a look at what Dan Gillmore of the San Jose Mercury Newshas to say about recent legislation regarding distribution of content, paying particular attention to Mr. Berman’s role. Now, it’s more than likely that Mr. Berman is simply naive about the technology involved, and is therefore assuming that the “truths” he is given by various lobbiests and special interests are in fact true—you and I, then, need to let him know what we think.

Peer to Peer Piracy Bill—A License to Ransack?

There’s an important post about Coble’s role in the Peer to Peer Piracy bill at Ed Cone’s blog. He quotes an email from Fred von Lohmann, Senior Intellectual Property Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Under the bill, “…a copyright owner *can* invade your computer if it has your “authorization.” When would you ever authorize such a thing? When it’s hidden in a “clickwrap” license agreement! If the bill passed, there’s nothing to stop PressPlay, Microsoft, or any other copyright owners, from putting a “pre-authorization” into their service agreements.

The worst thing about the bill is that it entitles copyright owners to ignore *any law*, so long as they stay within the (murky) bounds of the statute…Copyright owners are saying that, unlike the rest of us, they should be above the law. This is a power that we as a society don’t give to anyone, even to the FBI.”

This is why all of us need to contact everyone we can think of and let them know that passing the “Peer to Peer Piracy” bill is a seriously bad idea. You might also suggest that they read Ed Cone’s column at the News – Record, and this editorial as well.

More from Others on the Berman-Coble p2p Bill

See what happens when I waste my time working on my dissertation ? I miss really thoughtful and intelligent posts, like this DaveNet piece from Dave Winer. Read the whole thing, but I very much like this bit:

Further I do not advocate people using creative work without paying for it, but so far the entertainment industry has not offered a system that works the way honest users want it to. That’s the place to begin the discussion, not by hobbling, invading or hacking our computers to turn the clock back to a pre-Internet distribution system. The Berman-Coble bill is the product of an industry run amok, and elected representatives who appear to not be listening to the electorate.

On the Berman p2p

I intended to write something polemic and scathing about the Howard Berman (D- California) and Howard Coble‘s (North Carolina) so called “Peer to Peer Piracy Prevention” bill to allow rights owners to create and use malicious software to engage in flooding, or bringing down a computer or network by “flooding” it with demands for attention (this is a denial of service attack, and it’s usually illegal), spoofing (creating false files that masquerade as legitimate content), and redirection (hijacking a connection and pointing to an alternative server). These are actions that are less than legal under most circumstances, but the Berman bill frees rights owners to engage in these attacks, with protection. Rights owners do not need to prove “reasonable cause,” and the victim must prove (assuming one can identify and track the attack) that he or she suffered financial loss. You can read CNET’s take here.

I discovered that Doc Searles has done a much better job of explaining the issues, both of the P2P bill, and the various RIAA/Internet radio debacles. So go read what the excellent Doc has to say. Then take a look at the EFF’s commentary.

I’m not in favor of illegal file trading, and don’t engage in it myself. But this bill is an astonishingly technologically stupid idea, and it provides the same kind of opportunity for false claims of copyright violation and abuse that the DMCA does. Let’s say a rights owner suspects that an individual is illegally trading files. The rights owner launches an application to “flood” the user’s network. The file trading is halted as the entire network is crippled. In other words, the rights owner has indulged in the digital equivalent of stopping turnpike traffic to issue a citation to one driver who did not pay the fifty cent toll.

If you use a cable modem, your connectivity is shared, so if your neighbor is a file-trader targeted by a rights holder in a denial of service attack, you suffer as well. The putative rights holder does not have to prove that your neighbor was trading copyright protected data, never mind “his” data. If you’re an ISP, and you have three or four (or 100) users who are under equipped in the ethics department, your entire user base suffers—and you must prove in court that you suffered financial loss. If you’re a university, well, you’re screwed. You can’t shut off access to the ports or otherwise block p2p users because that’s a violation of rights, and you will hear from users and their lawyers, never mind administrators and faculty. (We know this because universities tried to prevent access to Napster when the popularity of downloading lots of mp3s began causing bandwidth problems.) But if you don’t violate users’ rights then your network is going to be constantly under attack, to the point of impairing daily and mission critical operations.

Moreover, the sweeping permissions offered by the bill, and the limitations on liability, make the bill not only open to abuse, it practically invites abuse. All the onus for proof lies on the end user, the “trader,” not the rights holder. The vague language provides opportunity for other kinds of malicious attacks.

HP uses the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to Hide Security Problems

HP uses the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to Hide Security Problems

I didn’t think it could get even more idiotic than the Disney/RIAA shenannigans, but yes, Hewlett-Packhard has managed to wrench copyright to even new, more disgusting levels of idiocy.

You should read “Security warning draws DMCA threat “Declan McCullagh ‘s CNet article, but essentially, HP has threatened researchers from SnoSoft who publicized a vulnerability in HP’s Tru64 Unix operating system. The vulnerability is a bug, a serious one, and one HP had been alerted to last year. However, rather than acknowledging the flaw and fixing it as rapidly as possible, when an individual, independent of SnoSoft, published the information, HP sent a letter in which an HP vice president threatens SnoSoft with DMCA damages for copyright infrngement, including fines “up to $500,000 and imprisoned for up to five years”.

Let’s be very clear about this. This was a warning about a vulnerability, one that could allow an intruder to takeover a system. This was in no way an infringment of copyright!. Moreover, HP had plenty of time to issue a fix. They chose not to. Then, they sued the group, not the individual who released the information, and they still have not fixed the bug!

UPDAT 08/01/2002: CNET reports that HP is backing off the DMCA prosecution.