Last year a U.S. district court in Los Angeles held that Grokster, a peer-to-peer file sharing network, could not be held responsible for copyright infringements by its users. Since then, the Recording Industry Association of America has been suing individual downloaders rather than companies, but the entertainment industry is still itching to shut down file trading networks at the source. Their latest attempt is the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), which would make it illegal to "intentionally induce" copyright violation.
With such vague, broad language, the bill endangers not just file sharing networks but many other technologies as well. To illustrate the legislation's reach, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has produced a sample legal complaint targeting Apple (for creating and marketing the iPod), the webzine CNET (for explaining how to use it), and Toshiba (for providing the hard drives).
The potential wrath of consumers probably would prevent an actual lawsuit against the iPod, but the possibility of legal action could stifle innovation. If Hatch's bill had been law in 2001, would Apple have been willing to take the risk of introducing the iPod? Or of promoting the iMac with the "Rip. Mix. Burn." campaign?
Widespread public criticism has prompted the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider revisions to the bill. At press time, the affected parties have not been able to agree on new language for the legislation. It's not dead yet, though, and technology companies and civil liberties groups remain wary.