New Bill Makes File Swapping a Felony

Legislation introduced into the U.S. Congress this week would make uploading a file to a peer-to-peer (P2P) network a felony with penalties of up to US$250,000 in fines and five years in prison.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Michigan) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-California), is aimed at closing loopholes in current copyright legislation and more effectively dealing with crimes that are already against the law, an aide to Congressman Conyers told TechNewsWorld.

Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Goodman, who covers file sharing on P2P networks such as Kaaza, Morpheus and Grokster, said the strategy of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and legislators that back their crackdown on file sharing is alienating customers and voters.

“Every time they win, they get closer to losing the ultimate war,” Goodman told TechNewsWorld.

Prison the Price for P2P

The proposed legislation, which targets computer users who upload files to popular P2P networks, might be combined with a less stringent bill currently under consideration, according to Conyers’ aide.

Conyers’ position is that the proposed legislation — which makes uploading a single file a felony with the possible penalty of severe fines and jail time — does not go too far in dealing with file traders. The aide said that despite education efforts and warnings regarding illegally sharing copyrighted materials, use of P2P networks remains high.

“If people don’t think they are going to suffer penalties, what’s the point?” she said. “Unless people see the ramifications of what they do, they keep doing it.”

Slippery Supply Side

The Yankee Group’s Goodman said the strategy of P2P foes currently centers on file uploaders, who are often untouchable by U.S. law because of their foreign origin.

“It’s a supply-and-demand thing; they want to cut off the supply,” he noted. “The thing is, they can’t cut off the supply because the supply will just move to where [the U.S. government] can’t touch it.”

Despite P2P figures that showed a decrease in activity following the RIAA’s threat to pursue file-sharing network users who do not disable uploading capability, he added, P2P use is on the rise once again.

Political Hot Potato

The latest bill from Conyers and Berman – who last year put forth legislation currently under debate to protect copyright holders who impede or disrupt P2P distribution of their content – might be combined with “softer” file-sharing legislation, according to Conyers’ aide.

Goodman said the bulk of Congress probably would like to see the issue go away, but that is unlikely given the amount of support on both sides of the issue. The analyst noted that legislators are split between fundraising from the media industries and the possibility of alienating voters by clamping down on P2P use.

Also, saying the proposed legislation has “RIAA fingerprints all over it,” he called it unlikely that the latest bill will make its way into law, due to resistance by a Congress unwilling to anger voters.

Broken Business Model

Goodman said P2P opponents seem to be operating on two fronts: one that encourages digital delivery of content, such as the loosening of restrictions for Apple’s iTunes service, and a second that entails lawsuits and restrictive legislation.

He added that, fundamentally, the RIAA and its supporters are hiding the fact that the music industry’s business model is broken.

“They’ve been able to hide it,” he said. “They controlled pricing, distribution – everything – and they were able to keep prices high; they can’t do that anymore, but they sure are trying to protect that business model.”

9 Comments

  • The RIAA and Conyers and them other dudes really piss me off. Why don’t they just leave us the hell alone and let us do what we want? People don’t have a lot of money these days, but the price of CDs remains skyhigh. Downloading songs is a good way to get what you want without paying $20 for a CD with one good song and a bunch of crappy ones on it.
    File sharing is fun and no one really gets hurt by it. The legislators are bored, and the RIAA has them in its pocket. That’s why sh** laws like these get passed.

      • Interesting couple of points that did appear to be explicit in the article.
        1) Uploading files to a P2P network. Does the legislation apply to just mp3s or copyrighted music? If it’s not explicit, then the file that gets moved to the P2P network, such as a Word document, would be therefore "illegal".
        2) 5 years and $250,000 dollar fines? For sharing music files? I thought in this country we had a ‘punishment must fit the crime’ philosophy.
        Or will you be able to plea down to no jail time and a larger contribution to the politicos?
        3) I believe my family has a P2P network in place. So, do I own the music I buy and then can’t distribute it to my sons? Or must I lock them out?
        The real point is that this is a misguided lobbied misrepresentation of the people’s time and money, bought and paid for by the RIAA. The monopoly that is the recording industry. The two congressmen should be ashamed of themselves for not representing the PEOPLE, and accepting the contributions of a monopoly.
        BTW, I have not ever downloaded music. I just hate sleazy politics and people getting screwed over. Why the two congressmen aren’t investigating the monopolistic practices of the RIAA is beyond me….

        • Okay, well we all know how to get busted…by using P2P. We all also reeeaalllyyy want to download music. Well, as you intelligent people should have already figured out is that…where there’s a will there’s a way.
          "So how the hell AM I gonna get music and not risk getting caught?", you ask. Well, in 1995, Bill Clinton signed a bill called the internet privacy act. This basically says that if you leave your computer wide open for people to get into, it is still illegal for them to download files from it as long as you TELL THEM THAT THEY CAN’T. This cannot be accomplished with P2P, but can be accomplished through IRC. Go to http://www.mirc.com to learn more. You can catch me on there. My nick LiquidLig. Once you get connected, go to the DALNet and type "/msg LiquidLig HI!". I’ll help you from there. Or go to http://www.ircspy.com and get info there too.

  • Good laws are very hard to make, and these two representatives are clearly not up to the task. The thing about copyright infringement that is wrong is where people make money using someone else’s material. This is what should be punished, and according to the severity of the misuse. Making a mindless, blanket law with stiff penalties is all too common today, because it is easier than addressing the real issues. Booby trapping the internet is NOT the answer.

  • All that is happening here is some in congress see a chance to get their greedy hands on millions, maybe billions, of dollars from regulating and taxing the internet. The internet as we call it and the world wide web have developed a system that works. All the fundamentals of supply and demand are at work and makes the whole thing tick along like a well-tuned engine. The greed and corruption of government bureaucracy can not stand to let something that involves so much money and that there is a snowballing demand for continue without it (the government) getting a huge slice of it.
    You can understand the temptation. Government should keep its hands off. Yes, it fouls up the copyright situation. The music industry can adapt to supply and demand like everybody else does. There’s just too many in the industry that are not willing to do that. They like what they’ve always had: a captured clientele without other choices.
    Well, I say that’s too bad. Leave the internet and its finely tuned culture alone. It works. They need to find something that works for them. Market availability changes throughout history. It’s no different than any other market. We’ve tried hanging on to passenger railway systems in this country for a century now. It’s crazy to do that when that market no longer exists. When the market disappears, you produce what is in demand where it is demanded. Government greed & bureaucracy will gum up the whole system for everybody, and it won’t work well if at all.

  • I got curious about this issue when this story first appeared earlier this week. Wonder why Howard Berman authored this bill? Wonder why the bill "has RIAA’s fingerprints all over it"?
    Look up Berman’s campaign funding sources at MIT’s Open Government website. The url is: http://opengov.media.mit.edu/
    I won’t (and don’t need to) comment further. You’ll draw your own conclusions in about five seconds.

  • Aside from this type of data sharing, music and video has been shared over the years in many different ways. Almost everyone is guilty of recording movies from Cable, satellite, television or from tape to tape. Even though the quality was not as good, how many people recorded music from the radio onto tape cassettes? Or recorded borrowed records or CDs onto tape or CDR media? How many people have access to Television or Radio?? Would you say more or less than the people that have access to a computer? Pretty much everyone. So just because these methods are not as easily tracked, don’t discount them.
    Think about it. The difference isn’t that great really, even if it’s less convenient and takes more of an effort. P2P is just another method. I doubt very much that the key players in this lawsuit or Congress can say they are guilt free in some way, shape or form themselves. You can’t throw everyone in Jail, and essentially that is what they would have to do. Who will be left to purchase the product? It’s ridiculous to think that there are any more people doing it now then ever before, it’s just easier.
    Where there’s a will, there’s a way, I doubt much will change with or without P2P, it didn’t before. The RIAA has their head stuck in the sand if they believe that it will. Trying to pass a bill through Congress making file swapping a felony just allows them to dig a deeper hole in which to stick their head.
    I find it ironic that they (the RIAA) are in fact their own worst enemy in this situation. Most people still prefer the store-bought copy and will purchase it anyway, no more or less then before. But, if the RIAA persists in its pettiness, it will only win at alienating the consumer, and in return the consumer will react by a reduction in purchases. The consumer knows that a loss in sales is what will affect the RIAA most, so that is where they will strike. So they are shooting themselves in the foot, so to speak.
    The question here is, who is the real loser in the end? And if your answer is the people sharing the files, then get your head out of the sand and think again.

  • I may comment on a non-issue, but sometime congressman do not think far enouth.
    Here is a forgotten logic in all this — the
    Missing logic in this bill.
    To upload, you must own a copy of the song; Therefore you must have either have bought it on CD or downloaded it.
    Also, if it is downloaded, the downloader must be willing to waste his bandwidth and harddrive space to store and redistribute this song, we can surely call it a "fan" and a potential ticket buyer at concerts.
    So, if you put all the CD Buyer and Ticket Buyers in jail for five year with $250,000 fines, the music industry would be left with people not crazy about the song engough to buy it nor share it.
    Problem Solved! Peer-To-Peer is dead in AM erica, but no more fans neither for the next five years; not counting the potential boycots from non P2P because they have friends, loved-ones, and family locked up with mass murderers, serial killers, rapers, drug dealers and company charged with felony.
    ifc23

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