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Rep. Howard Coble defends peer-to-peer hacking bill

The column that drew Coble's reply (Coble co-sponsored the P2P hacking bill 
with Rep. Berman):

Previous Politech message:


From: someone@mail.house.gov
To: "'declan@well.com'" <declan@well.com>
Subject: Coble defends Berman's p2p hacking bill
Date: Mon, 26 Aug 2002 17:34:19 -0400

Hi Declan,

After all the discussion on Rep. Howard Berman's p2p bill, I thought you 
and the rest of the Politech denizens would be interested to see what Rep. 
Howard Coble had to say about it.  You can find his thoughts on the 
Greensboro (NC) News and Record website 
here:  http://www.news-record.com/news/columnists/staff/coble24.htm.  I've 
also pasted it below.

If you post this, please don't post my email address.



Digital piracy bill is sound
News & Record
The English poet Samuel Butler once said that he did not mind lying, but he 
hated inaccuracy. After reviewing Ed Cone's column ("Coble wrong about 
Hollywood hackers") and your editorial ("Coble should retool Internet 
piracy bill"), I now understand what Butler meant.

In fairness to Ed, he did not impugn my character -- in fact, he said some 
nice things about me -- particularly about my refusal to accept the 
congressional pension. In turn, I know that Ed is a decent and honest 
citizen who simply disagrees with his congressman over a matter of public 
policy. Fine by me, since free speech is the hallmark of representative 

But Samuel Butler and I must take issue with his interpretation of a bill 
(H.R. 5211) authored by a good friend and colleague, Howard Berman. Rep. 
Berman is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that I chair and which 
has jurisdiction over one of our nation's most precious but least 
understood assets -- intellectual property, including copyrights.

Copyrights, patents and trademarks help to sustain our economy in a major 
way. The core copyright industries by themselves account for nearly $500 
billion of U.S. gross domestic product. Copyright-related employment over 
the past two decades has produced almost three times as many new jobs as 
the national average for other sectors. The incentive to create copyrights 
will quickly dissipate if they are not protected like other forms of property.

Currently, the easiest way to steal the latest musical or cinematic 
offering is through peer-to-peer technology, which essentially allows 
computer users to swap music and movie files. Millions upon millions of 
illegal downloads occur each day at the expense of songwriters, authors, 
graphic artists, photographers and software developers in North Carolina 
and the rest of our nation. Digital music piracy by itself worldwide costs 
the affected copyright owners between $3 billion and $5 billion annually, 
and sadly, most of the illegal activity occurs in the United States.

H.R. 5211 is an attempt to control this problem. The legislation is 
designed only to prevent thieves from illegally distributing copyrighted 
songs, movies and other digital works over the Internet to millions of 
computers. The legislation clarifies that copyright owners may utilize new 
technologies or "self-help" measures to protect their property as it is 
distributed on peer-to-peer networks. This is almost a dog-bites-man 
revelation because many intellectual property companies are already using 
some of these defensive measures now and believe it is legal under current 

Ed Cone thinks otherwise, but after examining his column, I can identify 
only two criticisms of the bill:
The bill will compromise the "privacy rights" of individuals by allowing 
record companies and others to hack into the personal computers of those 
who have obtained music files from "popular" file-sharing services. H.R. 
5211 does not allow copyright owners to "hack" into the computers of 
private network users. It only allows a copyright owner to look at files 
that a peer-to-peer user makes publicly available to millions of other 
network users. Moreover, copyright owners can only disable the distribution 
of infringing files. A copyright owner is not permitted to alter the 
original file itself.

Copyright owners will not be legally liable for "disabling, interfering 
with, diverting, or otherwise impairing files on private computers." The 
bill explicitly provides network users with legal redress against any 
copyright owner who acts beyond the scope of what is permitted by the 
legislation. This new cause of action supplements all other legal remedies 
currently available to persons who suffer harm.

While H.R. 5211 in its current form may not be the perfect answer to a 
serious problem, it will stimulate discussions on finding effective ways to 
curb piracy. That is why our subcommittee will conduct a hearing on the 
issue of piracy on peer-to-peer networks in September. This does not mean 
that the bill will be voted on prior to adjournment this fall. It does mean 
that we are interested in exploring ways to combat digital theft of 
copyrighted works, including music and movies.

On that, Ed Cone, the News & Record editorial board and I all agree. Where 
we part ways in the solution to the problem, but that's why this dialogue 
is healthy and should continue.

U.S. Rep. Howard Coble represents North Carolina's Sixth District. 

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