Hollywood asks Congress for Letters of Marque

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif has called for a bill that would create a "safe harbor" for rights-holders who want to attack P2P networks to "protect" their works. A safe harbor is a checklist of qualifications that will guarantee you immunity from prosecution. An ISP that does x, y and z can't be prosecuted for secondary infringement under the DMCA's safe harbor.

Berman is asking Congress for a safe harbor for RIAA and MPAA attacks on P2P systems. At first, this actually seemed slightly reasonable to me. Berman says that his bill won't allow rights-holders to damage individual or ISP computers, and he says the kind of thing they're planning is flooding the network with bad rips, spoofy meta-data (mislabelling tracks) and so on. Hey, that's already a problem in the wild in P2P networks, so what's the big deal, right?

There's something fishy here. Bad meta-data and bad rips are not criminal acts. There's no need for a safe harbor to protect the labels if they want to put up Gnutella hosts with 20,000,000 bad tracks (there're already Christian groups that put up inspirational/chiding images with names that suggest that the files contain porn, and so put their material directly into sinners' hands).

Why does Big Content need a safe harbor for something that's not a criminal act? Safe harbors only exist to protect people who are engaged in an activity that would otherwise be illegal. When Hollywood seeks a safe harbor for its attacks on the Internet, you know that what it's really asking for are Letters of Marque — a license to engage in criminal vigilantism.

So either Berman's blowing smoke or he's not telling the whole story. You don't need a safe harbor to protect yourself from bad metadata. Watch out for the text of the bill when it gets introduced — 90 percent of its social harm is lurking below the surface.