California Senator Wants To Throw Ed Felten In Jail
Contributed by Mike on Tuesday, January 18th, 2005 @ 07:00PM
from the sorry-Professor-Felten dept.
While the headline might seem a bit extreme, it seems accurate. A California state Senator with ties to Hollywood has introduced a law that could mean jailtime for any developer of a file sharing application. That’s right — it’s not about anyone who actually used the app to do something illegal, but whoever develops an application. This, despite the fact that courts have found repeatedly that you can’t blame the application for the fact that some people misuse it. So why is Professor Ed Felten at risk? Well, he recently wrote a file sharing application in all of 15 lines of code. The purpose, of course, was to show that the concept of regulating file sharing by banning the creation of such applications was ridiculous and anti-innovation. By the way, if you’re wondering where you’ve heard of State Senator Kevin Murray before, he’s the politician who also made it illegal to send any media file in California anonymously. Despite the questionable basis for such a law (and the fact that it probably violates other laws concerning privacy — especially with respect to children), it appears that Murray doesn’t really care about the facts of the situation, but just that folks in the entertainment industry are happy with all the laws he’s passed in their favor. Anyway, based on my reading of the actual proposal, it would also threaten to put anyone who has written FTP software and possibly even web browsers in jail. Maybe his next law will simply outlaw the internet, and force us all to watch broadcast content instead. That would really help, wouldn’t it?
Sen. Murray, from LA, makes the mistake that oh-so-many would-be tech regulators make: not understanding that there is no meaningful distinction between peer-to-peer file sharing; file sharing via email, FTP, the web; and file sharing via copy machines, paper, and pencils.
Moreover, beyond being indistinguishable as a matter of law from these other forms of reproduction, file sharing and information copying are core technologies for everything else we do involving communications. Consider seti-at-home, which relies on sharing files of data in order to share the processing task. Oh no! What if one of those alien radio signals somehow incorporates a copyrighted song that they heard on our radio signals!
One could really write an infinite number of amusing examples of how stupid the notion behind this legislation is. But when you think about it, it’s not so amusing, after all.