For the most part, we live in a free country.
An example: Even though it's generally illegal to drive faster than 75mph on any road in the country, car manufacturers don't install electronic speed enforcers on vehicles. If you get caught driving too fast, resolving the matter is up to you and the highway patrol, and the police can't automatically collect money from Volvo every time your station wagon hits 71mph. But imagine what would happen if, before you were ever caught speeding, the highway patrol preemptively brought lawsuits against every entity responsible for your driving too fast. Volvo, your tire manufacturer, the movie Speed,
the ad firm who made the car look fast, and even NASCAR could be sued for "inducing" you to speed.
Sound ludicrous? Consider Orrin Hatch's ill-conceived INDUCE Act 0f 2004, which essentially enforces similar rules in the world of digital music. (Quite bizarrely, the term INDUCE stands for inducement devolves into unlawful child exploitation--if you discover the connection between copyright infringement and the exploitation of children, please let me know.)
The act would illegalize anything that might make you more likely to infringe copyright. It's written in such overly broad language that you can't tell whether it would outlaw the iPod, tape recorders, libraries, the Internet, or just technology in general. After all, one could argue that all of these have made people more likely to commit copyright infringement.
To show what sort of inane lawsuits would be possible under the INDUCE Act, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) drafted a mock complaint, in which Apple, Toshiba, and CNET are sued: Apple for manufacturing the iPod, Toshiba for supplying the iPod's hard drive, and CNET for my iPod review, in which I explain how to use the iPod to transfer music between two computers. The fake complaint accuses these three companies of inducing copyright infringement by conspiring to put an iPod in your hands so that you might, of your own volition, fill it with unauthorized copyrighted music.
If you like the iPod, the Toshiba hard drive, or CNET reviews, this act should scare the bejesus out of you. In fact, even if you don't like any of them, there's certainly some item in your life--a TiVo, a Xerox machine, the Ctrl-C keyboard shortcut, or an e-mail account--that you stand to lose if this act passes.
This isn't the first time something like this has happened. In 1984, Universal sued Sony to kill the budding VCR market, and in 1998, the RIAA sued Diamond in an attempt to demolish the burgeoning MP3 player market. Both times, the courts decided that since the Betamax and the Rio have substantial noninfringing uses, those devices are legal. But this isn't a lawsuit--it's an actual law that will be enforced in courts if it passes.
I have a neat solution to the whole debacle, using this chain of logic:
- The INDUCE Act makes an infringer out of anyone who "aids, abets, induces, or procures" someone else's copyright violation.
- This act is anticonsumer and antitechnology and, as such, has made its share of enemies.
- When people feel that a law is unjust, too broad, and makes no sense, they're more likely to break it.
- Therefore, this law will encourage people to trade more songs and purchase fewer legally.
- Since it encourages copyright infringement, the INDUCE Act will be illegal--under the INDUCE Act.
- Orrin Hatch should be the first person sued if the bill passes, for inducing people to infringe on copyright.
Clearly, there's something very wrong with the INDUCE Act. To help prevent it from passing, you can use the EFF's simple form to send a letter to your local representative, send a letter to an editor using DownhillBattle.com's zip code-based editor finder, or just spread the word.