Exiting MPAA chief: Pirates a security threat

WASHINGTON — In what is likely his last performance in the congressional hot seat, outgoing Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Jack Valenti Thursday labeled piracy a national security threat and implored a Senate spending panel to devote more resources to fighting it.

At the same time Valenti and Recording Industry Assn. of America chieftain Mitch Bainwol were testifying before the panel, the movie and music industries scored a major legislative victory in their battle against piracy.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a broad antipiracy package that would, among other things, make the use of a camcorder in a movie theater a federal crime.

Just down the hall, during the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Valenti repeatedly referred to a memo by the U.S. Army that he said deemed the use of online peer-to-peer file-swapping technology a threat to national security.

Malignant growth

“Internet piracy is going to grow malignantly over the years,” he said. “I’m talking about the Kazaas and Morpheuses of the world … the U.S. Army believes they constitute a threat to national security.”

After the hearing, an MPAA spokeswoman explained that Valenti was referring to a U.S. Army memo and supplied an Army News Service article about the computer threats associated with using peer-to-peer technology on government computers.

The article cited a white paper written by the Army’s Computer Operations Intelligence section that said the unauthorized use of file-swapping technology on government computer systems “represent a threat to network security.”

While the article detailed the network security risks in using these online sites, it never explicitly said the technology created a “national security threat,” referring only to the corrupting power of the technology for government computers.

Argument defended

MPAA spokesman Rich Taylor later defended Valenti’s “national security risk” argument.

“Any time you crack open your digital door, the contents of your network are vulnerable,” he said. “When the U.S. Army brings a level of awareness to those using its networks, there’s clearly some level of concern about the risk associated with peer-to-peer applications on those networks.”

Valenti made the statement after several lawmakers warned that the government has few resources to devote to combating piracy at a time when so much money is being funneled to the nation’s top two priorities: the war on terrorism and war in Iraq.

“I don’t know if there’s enough money to continue to do what we’re doing now (to fight piracy),” said appropriations panel chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

With war on two fronts, Stevens encouraged the MPAA and the RIAA, as well as the Entertainment Software Assn. and the Business Software Assn., to devote more of their own resources to investigating piracy and then turn over what they find to the FBI and Justice Dept.

Valenti vigorously defended the industry’s existing efforts to do just what Stevens recommended, noting the MPAA conducted thousands of investigations last year using information collected from offices in several countries around the world designed to investigate piracy and hand the information over to the U.S. government to pursue.

He also recommended more money for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to increase staff and suggested raising the profile of its intellectual property functions by creating an “ambassadorial position” and/or creating a new office of intellectual property protection headed by a new assistant U.S. trade representative for intellectual property.

Stevens responded by affirming the need for greater copyright protections but said that in such tight budgetary times, Congress could not grant most of the industry wishes.

“We can earmark some money, but we cannot meet the outlines you made in your presentation,” he said flatly.

Fresh bills

The movie and music sectors still had a lot to cheer about at the end of the day with passage of a raft of antipiracy bills, including the one making camcording in movie theaters a federal crime.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), would also make it illegal to post pre-released versions of movies, music, software or other copyrighted works on the Internet or on other computer networks, such as peer-to-peer networks, without authorization.

“This bill will help end the most egregious form of copyright piracy,” Feinstein said in a statement.

In addition, the panel approved a bill authored by Judiciary chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and ranking panel Democrat Patrick Leahy (Vt.) that would expand the Justice Dept.’s power to protect copyrighted works by allowing the DOJ to file civil claims without criminal penalties. Under current law, the attorney general can bring only criminal copyright cases, which can be difficult to prosecute because they require a higher standard of proof.

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