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Bill Would Make P2P Providers Liable for Civil Penalties

23 Jun, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

A bill proposed Wednesday as a measure to protect children from pedophiles and prevent them from being lured into illegal activities would make those who provide technology like peer-to-peer (P2P) software liable for civil penalties if it is misused.

The Inducement Devolves into Unlawful Child Exploitation (INDUCE) Act of 2004 creates civil liability for “whoever intentionally induces any violation” of copyrights.

“This carefully drafted, bipartisan bill would simply confirm that existing law should allow artists to bring civil actions against parties who intend to induce others to infringe copyrights,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said.

In introducing the bill, he said current law forces rightsholders to go after end users, often children, but exempts those who provide the technology end users use to infringe, for example by offering free P2P software.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) applauded senators Hatch and Patrick Leahy for introducing the bill.

“It is grounded in the commonsense notion that people who “actively induce” others to break copyright laws are themselves violating copyright laws and should face legal consequences,” said MPAA president Jack Valenti.

Not everyone sees the bill as a good solution. Some believe it could have the side effect of reversing the Betamax decision that opened the floodgates to the video industry.

“We understand that the intent of the sponsor is to stamp out companies that are inducing children to receive unlawfully distributed and otherwise illicit material. But it could also have a huge negative impact on legal multipurpose devices, software and home networking products,” said CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro. “This new and separate copyright cause of action is so broad that it would stifle innovation. It essentially would grant copyright owners veto power over the introduction of any new technology for home and personal use.”

“Even a moment's reflection should make the danger to innovators clear — you now have to worry not just about contributory and vicarious liability, but an entirely new form of liability for building tools that might be misused,” wrote Fred Von Lohmann, a senior intellectual property attorney with the watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It will be interesting to see whether the bill expressly precludes any Betamax-type defense.”

The bill's co-sponsors include Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Minority Leader Tom Daschle, Sen. Bob Graham and Sen. Barbara Boxer.

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