An Open Letter - RIAA's Response to Billboard Article on Anti-Terrorism Bill

Release: Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)- 10/25/01

Below is an open letter from the RIAA in response to an article that appeared in Billboard titled “RIAA Criticized Over Effort to Change Anti-Terrorism Bill”. It was Wired magazine who broke the story titled RIAA Wants to Hack Your PC on October 15th. For the Wired story they inteviewed not "the lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation", but former Justice Department lawyer Orin Kerr, R. Polk Wagner, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania's law school, Peter Swire, a former top privacy official under President Clinton, and Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, all who also criticized the amendment. Curious why the RIAA response was not addressed to Wired as well. Since their story came to the same conclusions with individuals who are familiar "with the complex terminology of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act", it seems a better source for the RIAA to debate.

Anyway, rock historian and critic Dave Marsh gives his impassioned two-cents on this issue in his article Who, Me? Yeah, You -- editor

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Dear Editor:

It is hard to believe that Billboard would print stories as offensive and irresponsible as your recent articles attacking RIAA’s work on the anti-terrorism bill. The baseless rumors that we took advantage of this important piece of legislation to gain rights to hack into personal computers were debunked before the article was even written; yet Billboard perpetuates the malicious myths without regard for even the most basic of journalistic standards.

Let’s be clear: RIAA never lobbied Congress to give us the ability to hack into PCs, plant viruses, destroy MP3 files on people’s computers, or anything resembling such actions. These assertions are not only completely false, but also incredibly offensive and extremely irresponsible.

Had your reporter bothered to call even one of the Senate staffers involved in the legislation, or consulted with even one lawyer who could explain the meaning of the proposed amendments, he would have learned that he was unfairly maligning the RIAA and our industry.

The true story here is that the Senate drafted its anti-terrorism bill privately. When it was made public on October 5th it was discovered that one of the provisions would have had an unintended effect on anti-piracy measures that are lawful under current law. This inadvertent mistake would have negatively impacted not just copyright owners, but also ISPs, telecom providers and many other high-tech businesses, such as the companies of the NetCoalition. As written, the measure would unintentionally have subjected such businesses to lawsuits for activities that should be and are currently allowed under law to protect the integrity of their products and networks.

When we became aware of this inadvertent consequence in the draft legislation, we notified the Department of Justice, the Senate, and other industry groups; the proponents of the bill acknowledged that the draft legislation created an unintended, negative side effect. We were asked to propose language to avoid the unintended effects on our industry. We did so – based on suggestions from the Department of Justice and Senate staff.

And none of those drafts – we repeat, none – would have permitted the use of viruses or anything else that could damage a user’s computer or data in any way. Contrary to the assertions in Billboard, measures that cause damage to a computer or anyone’s data would be actionable. Nor did the article mention that the language provided no immunity from criminal investigation or prosecution. Thus a copyright holder using any technical measures to protect its works could do so only at risk of criminal liability, a substantial guarantee that any such actions would be conducted responsibly.

A person unfamiliar with the complex terminology of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act might not grasp these points from a quick reading of the proposed amendments, which is why it is all the more important that anyone writing on this subject check the facts and consult with informed sources. But the writer of the article apparently made no efforts to contact the Senate staff who actually handled this issue or to consult with anyone knowledgeable about the facts or the law.

Incredibly, the only person cited in the article is a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, who had nothing to do with the legislation and knew nothing about what happened. But she was more than happy to criticize RIAA for actions that the reporter described to her. And Billboard was delighted to highlight her unfounded criticisms in large, bold type.

The article also failed to mention that multiple industry groups and companies likewise saw the need to fix the inadvertent error in the Senate provision. Ultimately, the Senate staff decided to re-draft their original amendment to avoid the problems it had caused, thus obviating the need for an industry-specific solution. As finally drafted, the new provision is supported by eBay, the NetCoalition, MPAA, RIAA and SIIA, among others.

The damage done by these irresponsible acts continues to spread. On October 24, the Billboard Bulletin featured a story that a Member of Congress “decries RIAA’s tactics on legislation.” The quotations attributed to the Congressman make it clear that he had no idea what had actually transpired – but having read Billboard’s article, it’s only natural that he would be critical.

Let’s be honest: the not-so-subtle message implicit in Billboard’s articles is that we were trying to “slip” something into the legislation, an act that would be downright unpatriotic at this time of national crisis. And that’s what makes Billboard’s articles so incredibly insulting – manufacturing a story that makes us look underhanded and impugns our patriotism at the same time. In fact, we became involved in the anti-terrorism bill only because an inadvertent error in its drafting would have negatively impacted legitimate businesses engaged in legitimate means of protecting their products and networks; we proposed amendments only because we were specifically asked to do so by Senate staff; and the proposals we made were in fact narrow and responsible.

It’s time for Billboard to start honoring some editorial standards. It’s not responsible to write articles without researching any facts, consulting with any informed sources, or checking with the staffers actually involved. It’s time to start printing stories that are factually accurate, not malicious gossip masquerading as news.

Billboard owes their readers, and the RIAA, an apology.


Related Articles:RIAA Wants to Hack Your PC - Wired (October 15 2001)
Content Industry Gets Changes in Anti-Terrorism Bill - Webnoise (October 25 2001)
A License to Virus - The RIAA Wants to Hack Your PC


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