Send Me No Files: Senate INDUCEs a Threat to the Future of Information Technology

CEI On Point No. 91

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Please copy and share this article, download some music files, and photocopy your favorite chapters from Bill Clinton’s new book. It’s fun: Just do it!

Did I convince you?  If so, then Senate Judiciary Committee leaders think I should be held liable for copyright infringement, and owe damages to any copyright holders affected. On June 22, the Committee’s chairman and ranking member, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), introduced the “INDUCE Act” (S. 2560, proposed working title: “Inducement Devolves into Unlawful Child Exploitation Act”), which would penalize those found to “induce” a copyright infringement as if they were actual infringers themselves. This is heavyweight legislation, also sponsored by the bipartisan Senate leadership of Daschle and Frist, along with Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.). 

The INDUCE Act is the latest in a string of fast-tracked Senate proposals designed to give major media players more “power tools” to attack downloading, duplicating, and exchanging music and video files over the Web. However, this legislation is not confined to person-to-person (P2P) file exchanges: It would affect cable, PC, PDA, satellite TV and radio, photocopying, and other technologies that allow transmission of data—and threaten the emergence of future technologies. Had such a law been in place during the 1970s, we may not have PCs, CDs, and other technologies we now take for granted.  

A Bridge too Far. Digitized music, movies, text, and images, coupled with the Internet’s powerful dissemination capacity, have created unprecedented challenges for lawmakers and jurists seeking to balance the interests of content generators (the copyright holders) and consumers (the potential infringers), as well as those of the computer, electronics, and telecom/transmission industries caught in the middle. Hollywood and the recording industry have been very successful in persuading Congress, and in most cases the courts, to endorse aggressive efforts to locate and prosecute unauthorized downloaders and file swappers. Internet service providers (ISPs) have been compelled to identify downloaders; and the prototype for file sharing, Napster, was shut down (since revived as a pay site). 

Yet downloading continues. In response, content creators and providers are figuring out how to make money online—selling files and subscriptions over the Internet, for example. But content owners seek ever more legal weapons in search of copyright nirvana. The INDUCE Act crosses a bridge too far, and may be risking America’s technology future—and America’s economy.