WASHINGTON - Already infamous in cyberspace for his comment last year that he wanted to remotely blow up computers of illegal song swappers, Sen. Orrin Hatch has triggered another din in the digital world.
This time, it is the possibility that the popular digital music player Apple iPod would be outlawed under legislation Hatch, R-Utah, is sponsoring.
Technology Web logs, online user group forums, even National Public Radio have reported that Hatch's so-called Induce Act would potentially make devices like the iPod illegal. An iPod can hold thousands of songs in digital formats such as mp3, and potentially could induce consumers to copy recordings without the permission of the copyright holder.
Other endangered gadgets under the bill, according to bloggers and technology activists, are the digital video recording system TiVo, mini-disc recorders, personal digital assistants (PDAs), the Google search engine and even the underlying architecture of the Internet itself.
One online technology magazine, Corante.com, has even started daily postings to "Hatch's Hit List," a compilation of all consumer products that could be targeted if the Induce Act becomes law. So far it ranges from Legos (which can be custom ordered to replicate in building blocks any digital photo) to build-it-yourself AM-FM radio transmitters used for science fair projects.
At a hearing last week of the Senate Judiciary Committee he heads, Hatch tried to quash the iPod exterminator scenario as a "mock complaint" that any judge would toss out if his bill becomes law.
"Neither Apple nor the iPod violate [the Induce Act], even if portable mp3 players became commercially viable only because file-sharing piracy created mp3 collections too large to be explained by legal purchase," Hatch said.
Record companies, which have lobbied hard for the bill, also are downplaying the potential threat to the ubiquitous iPod, which was originally advertised with the slogan "Rip, Burn, Listen" and last week was bestowed iconic status in a Newsweek cover story.
"Technology is not the focus of this bill," said Mitch Bainwol, chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America. The Induce Act "targets behavior," he said, "namely specific actions taken by those who have hijacked technology to perpetrate and promote theft on a massive scale of this country's leading export."
But opponents say the bill would choke nascent technology and is so loosely worded that its reach goes far beyond controversial peer-to-peer file sharing software such as KaZaA and Grokster.
Co-founder of the House Internet Caucus, Rep. Rich Boucher, D-Va., said Hatch's bill could mean universities providing broadband connections in dorm rooms could be in violation, while Kevin McGuiness, director of NetCoalition, contends "venture capitalists, credit card companies, common carriers and even entities providing editorial reviews of products could find themselves the target of litigation."
Hatch said that while he and co-sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., do not foresee such consequences, they are "willing to enter into a constructive dialogue to ensure that the language is drawn as tightly as possible."
A different type of dialogue is already taking place on the World Wide Web, however.
One online technology forum asks participants: "What will be banned first if Hatch's Induce Act passes?"
Besides "VCRs" and "paper," the numerous posts include "common sense" and "Senator Hatch."