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Orrin Hatch at the Copyright Helm
March 20, 2005
Thomas Mennecke
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United States Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has been appointed chairman of the new Intellectual Property Subcommittee. The position and subcommittee was created by fellow Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), currently the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Fellow copyright advocate Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) will serve as the ranking minority member.

According to the press release issued by Hatch’s office, the new subcommittee will have a wide range of responsibilities.

“The subcommittee will have jurisdiction over all intellectual property laws and oversight on patent, copyright, trademark, and international intellectual property policies. Hatch named Bruce Artim, former staff director and chief counsel for the Judiciary Committee, the subcommittee’s staff director and chief counsel.”

Why is this important to the P2P and file-sharing community? Let us take a look at Senator Hatch’s past record.

Within the last few years, Senator Hatch has been a staunch opponent of file-sharing, P2P and the implied threat of piracy. Conversely, Hatch has become very close allies with the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of American) and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America.)

On June 17, 2003, when Hatch was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, a hearing was conducted in Washshington on the alleged copyright abuses taking place on the Internet.

Hatch met with leading technology firms to discuss methods that would allow copyright holders to legally attack and destroy computers of alleged file-traders. Randy Saaf of MediaDefender responded by saying, “No One is interested in destroying anyone’s computer.”

No one but Orrin Hatch, that is.

"I'm interested," Hatch interrupted. He said damaging someone's computer "may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights." The senator, a composer who earned $18,000 last year in song writing royalties, acknowledged Congress would have to enact an exemption for copyright owners from liability for damaging computers. He endorsed technology that would twice warn a computer user about illegal online behavior, "then destroy their computer." "If we can find some way to do this without destroying their machines, we'd be interested in hearing about that," Hatch said. "If that's the only way, then I'm all for destroying their machines. If you have a few hundred thousand of those, I think people would realize" the seriousness of their actions, he said.

> "There's no excuse for anyone violating copyright laws," Hatch said.

Hatch’s attempt to destroy computers sharing files was subsequently never heard from again, and any reference to his statements has strangely disappeared from his home page. Never-the-less, Hatch continued to take on file-sharing. It would come in the form of the much dreaded Inducing of Copyright Infringement Act of 2004, or “Induce Act.”

The Induce act was introduced by Hatch and Leahy in June of 2004. Its goal was to counter the Grokster decision by the 9th Circuit Court. The court did not find Grokster guilty of copyright infringement. The Induce act hoped to close a loophole in the copyright law by introducing a new term in addition to “contributory” or “vicarious” infringement; the term “Induce.” Its main focus was to hold P2P developers directly responsible for the alleged infringement taking place on their networks.

According to the proposed legislation, just about anyone who assists in the act of copyright infringement will held “libel as an infringer.”

In this subsection, the term `intentionally induces' means intentionally aids, abets, induces, or procures, and intent may be shown by acts from which a reasonable person would find intent to induce infringement based upon all relevant information about such acts then reasonably available to the actor, including whether the activity relies on infringement for its commercial viability.

Such broad terminology could easily refer to just about any piece of technology; an iPod, DVD recorders, CD writers, VCRs, and so on.

"The architects of this file sharing piracy make millions of dollars while attempting to avoid any personal risk of the severe civil and criminal penalties for copyright infringement," Senator Hatch said in his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I think all here today would agree that these pernicious schemes to encourage others - and unfortunately these are mostly kids - to break federal law allows these pirates to collect huge revenues while subjecting users to the risk of prison or crippling damage awards."

With such broad terms applied to the proposed bill, technology companies, consumer advocates, and even libraries ganged up against Orrin Hatch’s “Induce Act.” As of now, it appears to be dead in the water.

Before Hatch’s move to target developers, the Utah Senator also tried to target file-traders – through a piece of legislation known as the Protecting Intellectual Rights Against Theft and Expropriation Act of 2004, or “PIRATE Act.”

The Pirate Act, Introduce by Hatch and Leahy, aimed to give the Justice Department greater power to file criminal charges against file-traders. This is a substantial escalation from the current civil charges that a copyright holder is entitled to. Like the Induce act, this act came under great criticism. Many saw it as simply a way for the government to pay for the copyright industry’s lawsuits. The future of this bill appears murky at best, as it has been approved by the Judiciary committee. It has been tucked away with other copyright bills, however has not gone before a vote before the House of Representatives or Senate.

While it appears that Orrin Hatch may appear to be all doom and gloom for the file-sharing community, many can remember a time when it was not this way. Interestingly enough when Napster was the King of file-sharing, a different kind of Orrin Hatch was occupying the Senator’s seat for Utah. This Orrin Hatch had a very different view on file-sharing and its role for the music industry.

During Napster’s trial in the latter part of 2000, the Department of Justice and the Copyright Office wrote a brief to the 9th US Court of Appeals siding with the RIAA. Countering this, Orrin Hatch wrote a letter to the federal appeals court stating these briefs do not necessarily reflect the view of the United States Government.

"Given the importance of the issues to be decided, I thought it important that the court be under no misapprehension that the (DOJ) brief necessarily expresses the view of Congress in this matter,"

Truly a dramatic 180 degree change in ones viewpoint in just a few short years. The music and movie industries, who contributed $179,928 to Hatch in 2004, are most likely very enthused about his new position.


This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
Technology News :: Organizations/Initiatives
File-Sharing/P2P Related :: Other

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