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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @
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« Cultural Protectionism, Copyright and Filesharing | Main | The INDUCE Act (IICA) Harms National Security »

August 09, 2004

Hatch's Hit List #22 - Torrentocracy

Posted by Ernest Miller

What is Hatch's Hit List? Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has introduced the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act (IICA, née INDUCE Act) in the Senate. The bill would make it illegal to "intentionally induce" copyright infringement, but is worded so broadly that it would have all sorts of unintended consequences, one of which is to severely limit, cripple or kill innovation in many different fields. Hatch's Hit List is a daily exploration of some of the technologies and fields that the bill would likely affect. See also, Introducing Hatch's Hit List and the Hatch's Hit List Archives. Send list suggestions to ernest.miller 8T aya.yale.edu.

Today on Hatch's Hit List: Torrentocracy

What is Torrentocracy?

Torrentocracy (pronounced like the word democracy) is the combination of RSS, bit torrent, your television and your remote control. In effect, it is what gives any properly motivated person or entity the ability to have their own TV station. By running torrentocracy on a computer connected to your television, you not only become a viewer of any available content from the internet, but you also become a part of a vast grass roots media distribution network. This is not about the illegal distribution of media, but rather it's about enabling an entirely new way to receive the video which you watch on your TV. If you ever wondered how and when your computer, the internet and your television would merge into one seemless device with access to anything and everything, then at this very moment the theme song from 2001: A Space Odyssey ("Also Sprach Zarathustra") should be resounding through your head. [links in original]
I think that Torrentocracy is one of the most exciting projects extant. It is one of the tools that will allow video content producers to route around the broadcast/cable/satellite gatekeepers. Anyone with a video story that strikes a chord with those producing popular RSS feeds (trusted filters) will be able to get their work onto television screens fairly easily and without the bandwidth costs.

However, that is exactly the problem from the point of view of the INDUCE Act. Despite the disclaimers provided for the description of Torrentocracy, it is clearly going to seduce people (especially children!) into engaging in copyright infringement. Oh, sure, Torrentocracy won't host or link to infringing torrents, but that is what you would expect of a "bad actor" trying to avoid secondary liability. After all, the purpose of the INDUCE Act is to go after those who are trying to avoid secondary liability. In the logic of the INDUCE Act, trying to avoid liability is a sign that you're guilty. However, anyone with an RSS feed can point to an infringing torrent and Torrentocracy will dutifully help that continue the infringement.

Moreover, the very words of the author of Torrentocracy condemn the project as having it purpose to destroy standard broadcast through copyright infringement. For example, one post compares the content industries to the doomed Iraqi Bathist regime (The Recording Industry is as Doomed as Saddam)

The technological prowess of U.S. forces is the equivalent to the unstoppable nature of peer to peer file sharing. If history does repeat itself, then the music industry should be very worried. P2P is destroying the recording industries ability to profit from the artists they control and at the same time the internet is the oil which might give the artists the resources they need to determine their own fate.

I guess ironically in both cases the American people are just the consumers-- consumers of oil and consumers of music. Rights? Tyranny? What's that all about? Fatten us up, lower our gas prices and drop the price of CDs and we'll be happy.

This clearly demonstrates that the author knows P2P leads to infringement. The fact that he's made a great P2P system means that he must have intended to destroy Hollywood.

Furthermore, the author of Torrentocracy condemns DRM and talks about skipping commercials, share recorded programs with friends, and that the content industry needs to be taught a lesson: My tivo thinks I'm stupid:

I saw this article on NYTimes this morning about Time Warner/AOL's new tivo like device. I've got to say, I completely agree with BoingBoing. Dubbed "MystroTV", this thing is just horrible. It attempts to be a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) but is laden with DRM to manage your rights (DRM having about as much to do with helping you manage your rights as a ticketmaster convenience charge is about being convenient to you). Unlike tivo, one could not skip through certain commercials with a fast forward button, share recorded programs with friends, and not have full access to record all programs.

This concept product is just yet another example of the failure of old-economy content distribution companies in understanding that the avalanche of technological adoption both current and coming has completely destroyed tradional methods for deriving income. Though I do have strong faith that we'll soon see the tide turning away from such feature crippled products for the sake of "licensing," it does seem for now that these media giants have still not learned their lesson from the music swapping that has already turned the corner and moved straight on to video and whatever else you can imagine sharing. The bubble may have burst, but the chewing gum hasn't lost its flavor. They're screwed, and making crappy products surely won't help them. [links in original]

Torrentocracy is a tremendous idea. However, it is a prime INDUCE Act target. And, under INDUCE, dissing the current copyright regime will probably not be helpful in court...who cares about free speech when copyright is threatened?

Want to know more about the INDUCE Act?
Please see LawMeme's well-organized index to everything I've written on the topic, including Hatch's Hit List: The LawMeme Reader's Guide to Ernie Miller's Guide to the INDUCE Act.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Hatch's Hit List | INDUCE Act


COMMENTS

1. Robert Young on August 12, 2004 01:21 AM writes...

This is fantastic rollup!! It's clearly the way to showcase BitTorrent, but at a level that demonstrates a concern for the consumer. I'll need to look into this further... :-)

Thank you for the pointer Ernest.

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