The Golden Rule: Dirty Harry Style

You may have heard about a Senator who tossed out the idea that those who keep illegally download music after a couple warnings ought to get their computer damaged.

Is this serious? Is he serious?

Well, first, let’s see what he actually said (from the linked article above, emphasis mine):

“[Hatch] said damaging someone’s computer ‘may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights.'”

“‘If we can find some way to do this without destroying their machines, we’d be interested in hearing about that,’ Hatch said. ‘If that’s the only way, then I’m all for destroying their machines. If you have a few hundred thousand of those, I think people would realize’ the seriousness of their actions.”

In short, Senator Hatch is looking ahead. He wants to know all his options, including the nuclear ones. That doesn’t mean he wants to start nuking tomorrow. He just wants to know if he can if it turns out nothing less will do.

This Couldn’t Be Legal, Could It?

This is the wrong question to ask when you’re talking about Congresspeople. These are the people who make and change laws. So if some provision of the “Make My Day, Geek” Act of 2003 says destroying a computer is OK while some other provision of current federal law says this is not OK, the new law would just get rid of the old law.

No, the proper question to ask (at least in the U.S.) would be “Would such a law be constitutional?” and the answer to that would depend on the precise details of the law.

If we’re talking about unleashing the RIAA and Company to play vigilantes, with Dirty Hillary zapping your computer, it would be very difficult if not impossible to get any law that would allow that to pass constitutional muster. Due process doesn’t include vigilantism.

With some modification, though, you could come up with a law that would do pretty much the same thing and have at least a fighting chance to be considered constitutional. For instance, if a law were passed that required everyone buying a new TCPA-enabled computer/CPU/motherboard to sign an agreement authorizing TCPA to lock up your machine after the xth illegal download, with some provision for appeal of erroneous “decisions,” that may be OK enough.

However, keep in mind that these are just some comments during a hearing, not a seriously considered legislative proposal.

Who Is This Clown?

First, Senator Hatch is no clown. He’s the chairman of the Senate committee responsible for this area of law. That’s a very responsible position, and he carries a lot of weight in this area of law.

Is he serious? I think he is under the circumstances he stated: if nothing less will stop this.

But that’s not the outcome he wants.

Tossing A Bomb To Loosen Up the Defense

In American (both U.S. and Canadian version) football, you will sometime see a team that usually runs with the ball instead throw the ball far down the field to a receiver, even when the quarterback and receiver aren’t necessarily very good.

The reason why they do that even when the chances of completing the pass are low is to keep the defense from expecting runs all the time and moving players that normally would defend against passes from coming in closer to the line of scrimmage to stop runs.

It’s often called “opening up the playing field.” You throw the long pass to help the short run or pass.

Senator Hatch’s comments are the legislative equivalent of that football bomb. It opens up the legislative playing field.

It tells all interested parties how far this influential senator is willing to go, and concepts that looked kind of rad before (like TCPA) don’t look so rad any more.

It also tells the hardware makers, “This dude wants a serious answer, and if he doesn’t get it from us, he’ll just get it from some wacko out there and force it down our throats.

Either way, this makes something like U.S. legislative endorsement of something like TCPA more likely in the future.

Applying The Golden Rule, Dirty Harry Style

I rather suspect Senator Hatch is privately chuckling to himself about this. Constitutionality aside, this would be an application of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.”

If you have no respect for the property of others, why should they have any respect for yours? If you don’t think laws apply to you, why should they apply to others?

I don’t know if it’s a lack of the educational system, or just the age-old inclination of young men to think themselves their own law, but there’s a decided lack of respect for the law out there.

It’s almost certainly is not going to happen, but to paraphrase what I get all the time from people, while I don’t agree with the concept of vigilantism, the thought of thieves complaining about having their tools broken is pretty funny.

Then they can try to BS their computer back to life with all their jive about how it isn’t really illegal and it’s really the RIAA’s fault. And their dead computer will just look at them and silently testify, “You’re a thief, and you got caught.”

What a reality check. That would be an excellent (though expensive) educational experience for some who really need it.

It’s sort of like the complaints the criminals make after Dirty Harry catches them. All of a sudden, these criminals who have been violating the rights of others left and right suddenly fall in love with the law and start talking about their rights. .

It probably wouldn’t be constitutional, but it would be just.

It would probably give some of the slightly less unintelligent ones the necessary attitude adjustment to keep them out of serious trouble later on. It would tell more that the proper way to handle a law they find unjust is to organize and deal with the law, not steal against it.

Think about it.


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