January 19, 2005 | By Donna Wentworth

Cal-Induce Threatens to Jail Ed Felten

Ed Felten woke up this morning to a headline he couldn't to ignore: California Senator Wants to Throw Ed Felten in Jail.

You see, Felten is the primary author of Tiny P2P, a file-sharing program written in 15 lines of code. And the California senator in question, Kevin Murray, has written his own kind of code -- SB 96, or as we've begun to call it, Cal-Induce.

As our own Jason Schultz explains, that code would make a criminal of anyone who sells or distributes software that allows users to transmit files over a network, if the seller/distributor fails to exercise "reasonable care in preventing use of the software to commit an unlawful act" such as piracy, computer trespass, or dissemination of child pornography.

The definition for the offending software is ridiculously broad. As Felten points out, "any software that enabled a user to connect to the Internet would be covered." Further, the supposed safe harbor of taking "reasonable care" to prevent people from using your software to engage in illegal behavior could be interpreted any number of ways.

"I would argue that trying to build content blocking software into a general-purpose network app is a fruitless exercise which a reasonable person would not attempt. Presumably Mr. Murray's backers would argue otherwise. This kind of uncertain situation is ripe for intimidation and selective prosecution," writes Felten. "This bill is terrible public policy, especially for the state that leads the world in the creation of innovative network software."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.


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