In this week's edition of Newsweek, Stephen Levy reports on a Senate Judiciary Committee last week titled: "The dark side of a bright idea: Could personal and national-security risks compromise the potential of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks?"
By the end of the session, the only committee member in attendance, chairman Orrin Hatch-himself a songwriter who sells CDs on his personal Web site-zeroed in on what really bugged him: people sharing copyrighted songs on the Internet without paying for them. Then he ran an idea by one of the panelists: what if you had a system that could detect whether people were getting songs without paying for them and could warn those infringers that what they were doing was wrong? And then, if they didn't stop, the system would remotely "destroy " their computers.
"No one's interested in destroying people's computers, " said the panelist. "Well, I'm interested in doing that, "said the senator. "Warn them, do it again, and then destroy their machine! There's no excuse for anyone violating our copyright laws. "
Fortunately Senator Hatch hasn't yet codified his Dr. Strangelovean no-due-process piracy antidote into upcoming legislation. But in the House, Reps. Howard Berman and John Conyers have introduced a bill that encourages a different approach: jail 'em! Among other provisions, the bill lowers the bar for criminal prosecution to the sharing of a single music file and allocates $15 million to go after copyright offenders. Representative Berman says that he anticipates that prosecutors will go only after someone who, knowing the consequences, uploads massive amounts of music. But the bill says in black and white that if you share so much as a single tune with your pals on the Internet-as millions do every day-you are a felon. Penalty: up to five years in jail. (Better fill up your iPod before you go.)