File-Sharing? Your Hard Drive Could Be Destroyed If Utah Senator Has His Way

Orrin Hatch suggests that viruses be sent to people who download illegal files.

If you don't stop downloading illegal files, you can say goodbye to your computer's hard drive.

That sentiment was conveyed by songwriting Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) Tuesday at a hearing in Washington on copyright abuse. Hatch suggested that after a person engaging in copyright-infringing file-sharing received two warnings, a virus or some other harmful device be sent to the user's computer remotely.

"If we can find some way to [thwart illegal file-sharers] without destroying their machines, we'd be interested," Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said at the hearing. "If that's the only way, then I'm all for destroying their machines."

The comments made by Hatch, who raked in $18,000 last year in songwriting royalties, mark the harshest recommendation for penalizing copyright offenders ever made by a legislator.

After a few hundred thousand computers were crippled, the senator added, people might then understand that using peer-to-peer file-sharing networks such as Kazaa and Morpheus has its consequences.

It's not just copyright-infringed media — song, video and print files — that have the senator worried. P2P networks can be inadvertently used to share their users' personal information, such as passwords, bank-account information and credit-card numbers.

"This alone can be disturbing, but in government agencies, employee use of P2P networks could also disclose sensitive government data to the enemies of this country," Hatch said. "At this moment in history the implications of this risk are troubling to say the least."

Hatch's rather draconian penalties for file-sharers, however, are probably illegal and would require Congress to allow copyright holders, such as the Recording Industry Association of America, to be free of liability if they damage people's computers. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Senate Judiciary Committee's senior Democrat, while agreeing that the rights of copyright holders should be preserved, doesn't agree with Hatch's dire method.

"They would create more problems than they would solve," Leahy said in a statement. "We need to work together to find the right answers, and this is not one of them."

Hatch's statement, however, may have stemmed from his frustration that the technology and entertainment industries have yet to develop a cure for the file-sharing plague.

"I am very concerned about Internet piracy of personal and copyrighted materials, and I want to find effective solutions to these problems," Hatch said in a statement issued Wednesday (June 18). "I made my comments at yesterday's hearing because I think that industry is not doing enough to help us find effective ways to stop people from using computers to steal copyrighted, personal or sensitive materials. I do not favor extreme remedies — unless no moderate remedies can be found. I asked the interested industries to help us find those moderate remedies."

For complete digital music coverage, check out the Digital Music Reports.