September 26, 2005

Slippery Slope of Monitoring

There's news going around of LimeWire making changes to their system to prevent the distribution of copyright materials in light of recent U.S. court rulings. The recent court ruling stated "We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties." Unfortunately, if LimeWire attempts to comply, it will set a very undesirable precedent.

Essentially, what LimeWire's system will start to do is monitor communications between third-parties to look for activity which is considered illegal. This monitoring will be constant, and if its algorithms and database suspect a party is engaging in illegal activity, the system will prevent the activity from taking place. You may be thinking, "where's the harm in that?" It's a little like video cameras in stores to make sure people don't shoplift, right?

The problem is, this is more akin to having software monitor all of your phone/email communications or financial transactions or library usage to see if you are doing anything the government doesn't think you should be doing. The difference is, all of those intelligence systems have been government programs, subject to public and congressional oversight. (Although you can argue whether or not the government seems to care about that.) This would be the first time a private company will start policing the third-party use of its system for criminal activity. And private companies are under no similar obligation to behave. This is why the FBI performs wire-taps, and not Verizon.

Posted by josuah at September 26, 2005 1:37 AM UTC+00:00

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