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Backin’ down Hatch

Senator clarifies comments on Net piracy

NEW YORK — Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was forced to backpedal Wednesday from statements he made in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which he advocated the use of aggressive antipiracy technology — including measures that could destroy a would-be pirate’s computer.

“I made my comments at yesterday’s hearing because I think that industry is not doing enough to help us find effective ways to stop people from using computers to steal copyrighted, personal or sensitive materials,” Hatch said. “I do not favor extreme remedies — unless no moderate remedies can be found. I asked the interested industries to help us find those moderate remedies.”

The statement was an apparent departure from his widely reported comments at the Tuesday hearing, convened to discuss the potential of peer-to-peer networks to pose risks to personal privacy and potentially even national security.

Hatch said Tuesday that using technology to damage the computer hardware of a peer-to-peer user who is violating copyright laws “may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights.”

Ironically, Hatch — himself a songwriter and recording artist — was among the more vocal critics of the record industry’s early legal offensive against file-swapping pioneer Napster. He charged at the time that the labels had been far too slow to offer a legal alternative to the online music service.

The use of new technologies to supplement lawsuits and legislation in the fight against the illegal trading of songs and movies over the Net has been a hot-button issue inside and outside the Beltway.

Last year, legislation introduced by California Rep. Howard Berman (R-Mission Hills) that sought to give entertainment companies a legal safe harbor to pursue such tactics (within prescribed limits) met with a firestorm of criticism from privacy advocates and little support on Capitol Hill.

Still, record companies have tacitly acknowledged that they have used some of the more passive techniques available in an effort to make file-swappers’ lives more difficult. Among the most popular of those is spoofing, in which the peer-to-peer network is flooded with fake copies of a popular song to frustrate users and slow down the entire system.

Technologically, the efforts have met with limited success — and occasionally produced a backlash from the online community.

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