Anarchism on the net?


Ramesh Ponnuru

Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, is toying with the idea of allowing copyright holders to destroy the computers of people who violate their copyrights. That “may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights,” he said at a hearing. The Washington Post reports: “The senator acknowledged [that] Congress would have to enact an exemption for copyright owners from liability for damaging computers. He endorsed technology that would twice warn a computer user about illegal online behavior, ‘then destroy their computer.’”

Last year, opponents of a bill sponsored by liberal Democratic congressman Howard Berman claimed that his bill would allow the same thing. Hatch is now openly supporting what Berman disavowed.

It is possible to go too far in the other direction. There are those who would not allow copyright holders to take any steps that would make it harder for consumers to violate their copyrights. But one doesn’t even have to believe in copyrights in general to think that certain forms of “digital rights management” are compatible with normal principles of property rights and freedom of contract.

What Hatch is proposing, however, is a bad idea — allowing one class of hacking to go unprosecuted while all other forms are prosecuted to the hilt. There are also immense practical difficulties to containing the collateral damage that would predictably follow adoption of the proposal.

Intellectual-property-rights enforcement is the subject of an extremely heated debate. The details will be argued over for years to come. But it seems reasonable to insist that public policy should, so far as possible, let markets and contracts settle the issue rather than granting legal privileges to either side.

Maureen Dowd has written one of those Mars-Venus columns of hers — this one saying that Senator Clinton is from Venus while Bush-Cheney supporters are from the (coincidentally?) red planet.

But the truth is that men and women do not differ substantially in their views of Mrs. Clinton. Her numbers are not great with either group — and significantly below those for President Bush. Her favorability rating peaked in the annus horribilis of 1998, reaching 67 percent in 1998. They bottomed out after she joined the Senate: She had a 53 percent unfavorable rating in March 2001. Poll-watcher Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute says, “Whenever people are reminded of her politics, I think, the unfavorable numbers go up.”

I do not doubt that there will be a “gender gap” in 2004, with men more likely than women to vote Republican. But what’s more interesting is that the Republicans have a very good shot, for the first time in sixteen years, at carrying an absolute majority of the women’s vote.

The president imposed strong restrictions on the use of racial profiling in law enforcement. Most conservatives, including most of my colleagues at NR, are for profiling. I’m opposed to most of it. My thinking on the subject was strongly influenced by an article by Gene Callahan and William Anderson, which I strongly recommend.


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