Privacy paramount

Pol pushes law limiting anti-piracy measures

WASHINGTON — For Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), privacy apparently trumps piracy.

The solon wants to make it far more difficult for everyone — including the entertainment industry — to force Internet service providers like Verizon to cough up names of people illegally downloading movies and music.

Early language in the bill would force copyright holders to file a civil suit in order to obtain any names of alleged offenders. Currently, they need only obtain a subpoena.

Issue was vaulted into the public sphere after a court forced Verizon to hand over the names of alleged cyberpirates on its Web network to the Recording Industry Assn. of America. The court order opened the door to scores of potential copyright suits against individual users of file-sharing software — and spread alarm among privacy advocates.

Getting it in writing

Usually a strong ally of copyright holders, Brownback has been mulling legislation for weeks. Initially, he planned to add language as an amendment to Federal Trade Commission authorization legislation.

Right before the Commerce Committee took up that bill Thursday, Brownback decided to pull it. But he doesn’t sound like he is backing away from the issue.

“Anyone can claim to be a copyright holder,” he argued, using some of the same language employed by Verizon and privacy advocates in arguing their court case. “You could be a stalker or a telemarketer. This is not about piracy, it’s about privacy.

“This issue is not going away,” he added later.

Feeling pressure

According to several insiders, Brownback has been inundated by complaints from the music, motion picture and videogaming industries about the barriers his legislation would create for those trying to fight illegally downloaded material.

The RIAA has argued that there are far more personal privacy issues created by peer-to peer networks like Kazaa and Grokster than by efforts to stop illegal activity. In fact, an association spokesman argued, those who use these networks are potentially opening up their hard drive to millions of online strangers.

The spokesman went on to quote the federal judge in the Verizon decision: ” ‘If an individual subscriber opens his computer to permit others, through peer-to-peer file sharing, to download materials from that computer, it is hard to understand what privacy expectation he or she has after essentially opening the computer to the world.’ ”

(Justin Oppelaar in New York contributed to this report.)