By Jonathan Krim Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2004; Page E01
Top Senate leaders from both parties launched an assault on online music and video file-sharing services yesterday, introducing legislation that makes anyone who "induces" illegal copying just as liable for breaking copyright law as someone who makes the copies.
The proposed law, backed by Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Minority Leader Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), is intended to crack down on the free file-sharing services that the recording and movie industries claim are costing them millions of dollars in lost sales.
But some legal experts argue that the bill is worded so broadly that it threatens numerous electronic devices and software products that enable copying of digital entertainment. And opponents worry that the bill is being hustled through the Senate without sufficient hearings and debate.
File-sharing software allows users to trade music, video and other software files. Kazaa, the largest of the networks, claims more than 30 million users who have downloaded more than 1 billion files.
Although music companies have sued more than 3,000 people who use file-sharing software, the entertainment industry has so far failed to convince judges that services such as Kazaa, Grokster or Morpheus should also be held responsible.
Instead, in a key ruling late last year, a federal court in California said that as with copying machines or other devices, the fact that some consumers use file sharing for illegal purposes does not mean the networks themselves are liable.
The bill will be taken up by the Judiciary Committee, headed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is the legislation's chief sponsor. Hatch said the legislation is partly in response to the California decision, which the entertainment industry has appealed.
"Unfortunately, the court which found that adults now profit by inducing children to commit illegal and criminal acts also demanded 'additional legislative guidance' about whether the artists harmed by this scheme can sue its architects instead of the children swept into its clutches," Hatch said.
Proponents, including Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the measure was narrowly crafted to go after only those deliberately aiding illegal copying, not any particular technology.
But several copyright experts said the bill could have a chilling effect on anyone who makes copying technology.