Hot on the Web
Lost in Cyberspace
Online San Diego
Feature Articles
Book Reviews and Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotates
Contact Me

Hollywood wants access to your PC

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 23, 2002
(Issue 2034, Computer Enhanced Music)

Sometimes the brazenness of the rich can be truly breathtaking – in a vicious, ugly sort of way.

Stymied by the resilience of the online community's ability to continue trading their favorite songs and movies over the Internet despite a full-out war against the practice, the entertainment industry has gotten a member of Congress to introduce a bill that would give Hollywood online police powers more sweeping than J. Edgar Hoover's sweetest fantasies ever allowed him.

This proposed legislation – from Rep. Howard Berman, a Democrat from Hollywood – would grant entertainment companies the legal right to hack into any PC they suspect of having pirated music or films. Once there, they would be allowed to access any files on your hard drive, delete or alter them as they see fit, and even launch attacks against your PC to knock you off the Internet.

Standard of proof required before hacking into your computer?


Recourse for those harmed by these searches?

You would be allowed to sue only if you obtained the permission of your local U.S. attorney's office.

For all its ham-fisted lunacy, even the FBI hasn't made this bold a power grab in the war on terrorism.

Waging war against the 'Net

Of course, our republic has never felt as threatened by violent fanatics as Hollywood feels by peaceful citizens sitting in front of their monitors.

And if nothing else, Berman's bill is consistent with Hollywood's raging war against the Internet.

First, the film industry got a judge to ban the DeCSS DVD-copying software code. Not only was possession of the executable file ruled illegal (despite an earlier Supreme Court ruling recognizing the right of American citizens to make backup copies of any copyrighted materials they've purchased), but the judge has subsequently ruled that merely linking to overseas sites containing the file is also illegal. (This despite an earlier ruling out of the American protectorate of Guam stating that while the legislature may or may not have had the right to ban abortion under the terms of its U.S. protectorate, the First Amendment's free speech clause surely prohibited a ban on pro-choice activists informing women about places outside Guam where they could get an abortion. How is that any different than free-speech activists stateside informing folks where they can go to find DeCSS outside U.S. jurisdiction?)

After that, the recording industry found a judge who didn't understand technology to castrate the digital dubbing service a couple years back. simply allowed you to enter CDs you legally owned into an online database so that you could listen to them anywhere. If ever a case deserved to be taken to the Supreme Court ...

Most recently, the music-trading Napster service was shut down – although the music industry actually had a pretty good argument there.

But once Napster was shut down, the online community reacted pretty much the way those of who've been online a while had predicted: File sharing went from Napster's server-based model to a peer-to-peer method in which there is no central meeting ground.

So now the entertainment companies have to sue individuals to get them to stop trading music and/or videos.

Damage control without publicity

That's expensive – and public trials create the kind of unwanted media attention that Hollywood would rather avoid.

Because the truth is that it is its own customers that Hollywood is targeting. Those who trade music and videos tend to also be some of the best paying customers Hollywood has. And poll after poll shows that a solid majority of Americans believe file trading ought to be legal; that support for copyright law is eroding and continuing to slip.

A generation ago, when the new technology was the audio cassette, the music industry predicted gloom and doom. Instead, it turned out that folks sharing their favorite music via audio tapes actually stimulated new sales – that music sharing was in fact a highly effecting marketing tool for the music industry.

That hasn't changed in the age of the Internet. While the music industry claims sales are down from a year ago, that is more likely due to the massive economic downturn resulting from 9/11 and the growing greed scandal on Wall Street.

Well, that and the fact that the music companies are releasing more and more crap that no one wants to listen to.

Technology, democracy can help

There are two important conclusions to consider here, though: One is that the entertainment industry is unlikely to be able to compete technologically with the savvy online community. Berman's bill, if passed, may indeed allow the entertainment companies the legal right to hack into your computer – my guess is there will be firewalls and other tools more than capable of preventing it. Look at the record: Despite the judge's order banning both the DeCSS DVD-copying software and any and all links to it, you can still find DeCSS all over the Internet. Simply go to your favorite search engine, and type in "decss.exe."

The second and more important conclusion is the reminder that in a democratic nation, we cannot afford to leave governance to the government.

Berman's bill to give Hollywood carte blanche permission to hack into your PC is despicable. Fortunately, he was dumb enough to introduce this idiotic bill during an election year – meaning members of Congress are actually inclined to listen to us at the moment.

To let your representative know how you feel about this bit of Orwellian legislation, visit Let them know you're watching how they vote on this bill – and that your vote in November will be awarded accordingly.