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Hollywood escalated its fight against Internet trading of movies and music, successfully urging key lawmakers to consider letting the industry use hacker tactics to stop Americans’ exchange of songs and films they didn’t buy. The broad new legal powers proposed by a congressman — and endorsed quickly by several others — would let record and movie studios hack into Americans’ personal computers to find illegally shared music and movies. They could also try to disable or interfere with file-swapping programs. It also would let industry use denial-of-service attacks — commonly launched by hackers to flood commercial Web sites — to knock personal computers offline so they can’t trade copyrighted songs and films. Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., who represents part of Hollywood and is the House’s single largest recipient of political donations from the entertainment industry, said his legislation “allows copyright owners to use technology to deal with technological piracy.” Berman said his bill, introduced Thursday, would not let the industry spread viruses, destroy files or hack into a consumer’s personal data. Instead, he said, it would simply let them disable improperly traded films and songs. He likened it to a car dealer repossessing a vehicle for delinquent payments. “There is no excuse or justification for this piracy,” said Berman, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts, the Internet and intellectual property. “Theft is theft, whether it is shoplifting a CD in a record store, or illegally downloading a song.” His measure is aimed at disrupting the practice of downloading or offering copies of pirated music, movies or software popularized in the late 1990s by the Napster service. To date, the industry has fought illegal trading mainly by suing companies that operated file-sharing networks. But technology has made it possible to decentralize those file-trading networks, allowing users to trade from computer to computer without a service like Napster. The industry currently must trace users individually and persuade the users’ Internet providers to pull the plug on violators. It also has resorted to seeding networks with fake files to frustrate people looking for free music. Recording Industry Association of America chief Hilary Rosen called the bill an “innovative approach to combating the serious problem of Internet piracy.” “It makes sense to clarify existing laws to ensure that copyright owners … are at least able to defend their works from mass piracy,” Rosen said. The Motion Picture Association of America praised Berman’s efforts but cautioned in a statement that “there are aspects of the bill we believe need changing.” The Business Software Alliance noted the high costs of pirated software but did not directly endorse the bill. “Congressman Berman will further the critical debate over Internet piracy, and we look forward to this continued dialogue,” spokeswoman Jeri Clausing said. A critic, Alan Davidson of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the legislation “provides a hunting license for copyright holders to seek out legitimate users of the Internet.” The proposal would lift civil and criminal penalties against entertainment companies for “disabling, interfering with, blocking, diverting or otherwise impairing” the online trading of pirated songs and movies. An attack knocking an Internet user completely offline would not be permitted “except as may be reasonably necessary” to prevent a copyright violation, the bill states. Under the bill, companies would not be required to warn users in advance of their actions. A user wrongly attacked could sue only if he or she suffered more than $250 in economic losses and obtained the U.S. attorney general’s permission to file a lawsuit. Berman received at least $186,891 from the entertainment industry during the 2001-2002 election cycle, including $31,000 from The Walt Disney Co. and $28,050 from AOL-Time Warner Inc. Other sponsors of the bill include Reps. Howard Coble, R-N.C.; Lamar Smith, R-Texas; and Robert Wexler, D-Fla. Coble also received significant entertainment industry contributions. The latest effort by Capitol Hill to crack down on Internet copyright violators reflects the industry’s fears about the economic losses of such thefts, as improved software and high-speed connections make it easier than ever to trade music and movies online for free. It also represents the frustration with the computer industry’s slow-moving efforts to develop technological locks protecting electronic copies of songs and movies. Congressional leaders previously said they preferred to wait for technological solutions before considering new copyright laws. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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