Packet Rat: Rat turns a blind eye on peer-to-peer vigilantes

Michael J. Bechetti

The Rat has been keeping a close watch on the peer-to-peer file sharing debate and the political maneuverings of the Recording Industry Association of America.

Things really are heating up on Capitol Hill, on the campaign trail and in court. If RIAA gets its way, federal network managers could soon become entangled'and the Justice Department could acquire a new, unfunded mandate to prosecute Net file swappers.

Reps. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) and Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) have cosponsored the Peer-to-Peer Piracy Prevention Act of 2002, which would authorize copyright holders to 'interdict' the sharing of their content over peer-to-peer networks.

'It's all come down to legalized vigilantism,' the Rat sighed as he read a summary of the bill. 'We'll have privateers and letters of marque. Next thing you know, the RIAA will send press gangs circulating through cybercafes to muster up the hackers.'

Although the piracy bill is being spun as protective of individual users' rights and restrictive to the kind of hacking the RIAA can do, critics say it leaves too many loopholes for overzealous vigilantes.

Apparently hackers already are being contracted to play dirty tricks on file-sharing networks. And when a firefight starts on the public Internet, the Rat figures it's bound to spill over into his domain, regardless of the safe harbors theoretically provided by legislation.

Coble, a long-term representative whose congressional site at sports a broken link to his biography, is chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. His chief of staff told a columnist for the North Carolina News & Record, at, that Coble doesn't know how to operate a computer, so it's doubtful that the lawmaker fully understands the bill's technological bombshell potential.

Meanwhile, ire over the bill has started another peer-to-peer log rolling: the first interactive weblog of a congressional candidate.

Tara Sue Grubb, a Libertarian running against Coble, has gone directly to sympathizers via her Web site, at, asking for contributions through Digerati supporters include weblog software and hosting company and its president, Dave Winer, chief curmudgeon of the blog world.

'Maybe I should consider a run for office,' the Rat's spouse muttered as she browsed Grubb's site. 'I could start a campaign weblog, move to North Carolina and pull a Hillary in 2004.'

'Sure, dear,' the wired one replied. 'And I can turn my weblog into an initial public offering
that will exceed the market capitalization of General Motors within a year. All I have to do is write and sell software that blocks the RIAA's hired hackers.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at

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