Cato Debate Followup



Cato Debate Followup

Before I get started on my follow-up post about the Cato Debate I attended last week, I’d like to point out an article that is mentioned at the bottom of James Miller’s Let Hollywood Hack piece.  It is titled Hollywood Hacks Consumers, and is written by Sonia Arrison.  As the link suggests, it is a counterpoint to Miller’s piece:

Hollywood wants Congress to pass laws protecting intellectual property against theft on the Internet. But Hollywood lobbying has gone too far with the introduction of a new bill that authorizes copyright holders to hack into peer-to-peer networks.

The Bill

The bill itself [pdf] scares me, but I’m not a lawyer, so there’s no way that I’ll be able to grasp its intricacies.  Have you read it?  What do you think?

Phil Corwin made an interesting observation during the Q&A section.  His computer crashes all the time.  How does he know if the crash was caused by Hollywood?  If it was caused by Hollywood, and the damage caused is less than $50, there is nothing he can do.  He questioned the secrecy that is built into the bill.  Methods used by copyright holders to protect their works are kept secretly on file at the Department of Justice.  Any claims made against copyright holders are to be directed to the Attorney General, and under the bill will likely never become public.

I think that the claim process outlined in the bill makes it extremely hard (perhaps intentionally?) for people to seek damages against copyright holders.  From a geek’s point of view, you would have to log quite a bit of incoming and outgoing traffic to trace an attack from a copyright owner.  This holds true for both legal (under the bill) and illegal attacks.  It is unlikely that common computer users will do this.

The Economist

James Miller, an economist from Smith College, seemed to be the least important person on the panel.  I was a little disappointed at his opening statement, as he basically read his paper, elaborating slightly.  Perhaps he sat on the panel to make Mr. French and the MPAA look reasonable in comparison.  Miller’s views on p2p piracy are extreme.  He believes that having Hollywood scan our hard drives is a-ok.  He appeared nervous throughout his opening statement.  An attack on his ideas by one of the panel members provoked a childish defensive response out of him during the rebuttal.

The Missing Representative

Ed Cone is curious about the absence of Howard Berman, who was scheduled to be on the panel.  One could chalk it up to business as usual, or perhaps the potential war in Iraq.  I have a feeling that something else was at play.  While John Mitchell of Public Knowledge introduced himself, he apologized if anyone had come to the debate hoping to hear Gigi Sohn’s opinions on the bill.  After the debate, I overheard a few people discussing why Gigi did not make the debate.  From the conversation, I learned that Gigi is apparently scheduled to testify in a hearing on the bill and did not want to show her cards.  Could this be the real reason that Berman did not show up?  Does he have more up his sleeves?

Speaking of Berman, I’d like to point out a link to his introduction of the bill ([pdf] or [doc])  from July 25, 2002.  I think it should be required reading for anyone interested in this debate.  The introduction does not seem consistent with the wording of the bill itself.  From Berman’s introduction:

One approach that has not been adequately explored is to allow technological solutions to address technological problems. Technological innovation, as represented by the creation of P2P networks and their subsequent decentralization, has been harnessed to facilitate massive P2P piracy. It is worth exploring, therefore, whether other technological innovations could be harnessed to combat this massive P2P piracy problem. Copyright owners could, at least conceptually, employ a variety of technological tools to prevent the illegal distribution of copyrighted works over a P2P network. Using interdiction, decoys, redirection, file-blocking, spoofs, or other technological tools, technology can help prevent P2P piracy.

From the bill itself, it appears that copyright holders can do just about anything they want to as long as they file it with the Department of Justice.  Then again, I’m not a lawyer…


Marshall Eubanks (pardon any possible misspelling) routes packets for a living.  He was particularly worried about the potential for sanctioned Denial of Service (DoS) attacks.  Mr. French told him not to worry, because copyright holders and only protect their works.  If they launch a DoS attack that affects anything else, they are liable.

John Albino, a local DC area photographer, raised concerns about individual content creators.  He too was assured that the bill covered individual content creators.  Mr. French also restated that the bill does not curtail anything except p2p networks.

Pat Ross of Washington Internet Daily asked a question comparing real property rights to intellectual property rights.  The only thing I have in my notes about the response is: LibertariansIf I had .08 cents for every time Mr. French said Libertarians…

The Lunch

It was good.  I had a sandwich (I don’t recall what kind), a cookie (chocolate chip) and a coke.  There was some discussion going on, though it was mostly reporters talking to reporters, lawyers to lawyers, and so on.  There wasn’t much conversation for a weblogger to engage in.

The Experience

Reporting to the weblog world and beyond about the event was a great experience.  I learned that taking notes on pen and paper and translating to a weblog entry is time consuming and tedious.  It was, however, well worth doing.  I think the ideal way of blogging an event would be with a laptop in hand.  This way editing can be done via cut and paste rather than transcribing.  Perhaps it is time to upgrade my frail Pentium laptop.

At times the panel debate reminded me of a few high school debates I watched and participated in.  When you don’t have anything else to say, just hammer home your point one more time (.08 cents!).  Make a point that will provoke your opponent to react poorly.  Make your opponent look like a criminal, then point out that criminals will attack my position by this this and this.  Some things never change, do they?