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Common sense absent from anti-piracy proposals

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, made some remarks during a hearing Tuesday that sent shock waves of outrage across the Internet, and rightly so. The remarks also showed how hypocritical the strongest opponents of copyright infringement can be.

In the hearing Hatch, suggested that he was for allowing copyright holders defending their property from pirates, such as people downloading songs on the Internet, by “destroying their machines,” if necessary. He further said, “If you have a few hundred thousand of those, I think people would realize (what they did was wrong).” Hatch reasoned that such drastic measures were acceptable as “there’s no excuse for anyone violating copyright laws.”

But, ironically, the Web is not only a place of piracy, but also of astute freelance reporting. The Web site “Amish Tech Support” took a closer look at Hatch’s own Web site and found some programs controlling the site that apparently had not been registered. Judging from the HTML code on his site, the Java applets, which are free for use on personal Web sites, do not appear to have been registered. The price to use them on commercial sites, such as Hatch’s, is $899, a potentially big deal for a small company like Milonic Software, the makers of the programs.

So if the world were playing by the rules Hatch was calling for, Milonic Software would have been allowed to attack the Senate’s servers, on which Hatch’s Web site is housed.

This, and the collective outcry, was reason enough for Hatch to retract his statement partially on Tuesday by issuing a statement reading that he “does not favor extreme remedies — unless no moderate remedies can be found.”

Extreme measures, like Hatch’s call for computer lynch laws, allowing holders of copyrights to do whatever they see fit to protect their property, do not help anybody.

The holders of copyrights seem unlikely to want to destroy computers that contain unregistered copies of software or content to which they hold the rights.

At the same time, consumers’ rights have to be protected. Yes, it is illegal to download music, but to allow the RIAA or other copyright holders to damage consumer’s computers is ridiculous. After all, the computer they are taking down will hold content the owner has the right to use, or even some of their own works to which they are the sole right holder.

Hatch’s scheme is a prime example of the punishment not fitting the crime. Other means to combat piracy have to be found that are fair to consumers as well as holders of copyrights.