License to Hack

Internet Policy Hijinks

Cyberpunks in Congress

In an unusual display of politico-cyberpunk sensibility, a bill was introduced to Congress on July 25, 2002 to formally legalize hacking. In an apparent unprecedented victory for the hacker-nation, Rep. Howard L. Berman, a California Democrat representing the 26th Congressional District (including North Hollywood) introduced the License-to-Hack Act (also referred to as the Script-Kiddy Emancipation Act) which essentially allows hackers free reign to hack publicly accessible peer-to-peer networks.

Explicit License Test:


Pick your Poison

The bill is particularly stealthy in that it has a bizarre asymmetry whereby an explicit License to Hack is granted under a specific set of circumstances, but remedies against an attack are only available under a different set of circumstances. An explicit license would be available if the hacker’s work is actually on the network attacked, the hacker only affects that network, and the hacker doesn’t cause more than $50 of property damage. On the other hand, the target of the attack can only recover from the hacker if he can show that the hacker no reasonable belief that his work was on the network and that the hacker caused the target more than $250 of economic damage. The area between the two can be thought of as a Blind-Eye Implied License.

Blind-Eye Implied License Test:


Blueprint for a Hack

So how does of all this help you? Lets say that you are a nascent script-kiddy who wants to cause some major mayhem to beef up your street cred. But one problem, your Mom has threatened to take away your PS2 if you ever get a visit from the FBI. Mr. Berman has the answer to your prayers.

The first step is to become a ‘copyright owner’. This is easy; just create something. Write it down, record it or take a picture. Then digitize it and put it on your website. Note that the bill does not require that you apply for copyright registration with the Copyright Office in order to avail yourself of this license. Now that you are a copyright owner, suppose you want to launch Denial of Service attack on every network that you suspect is trafficking in your little gem of creativity without your permission. The first step is to crawl the web for files that could potentially be copies of your work. Once you have identified your targets, you need to decide whether to opt for Explicit License or the less safe Blind Eye Implied License. Then go to your favorite hacking site, download the latest networking-crippling script, and let loose!


What happens when you are on the other side of the equation? Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you are not a pirate. What recourse do you have when some script-kiddy spikes your network? Under the bill, the prognosis is not good. First off, the bill inserts a gate-keeping whereby you must first convince the Attorney General that you have a good case before you can even file a lawsuit. Think of that as an extra 50% chance that there is nothing you can do.

What Can You Do If You are Hacked?



Although the bill has been spun by the media as a heavy handed offensive by the Copyright Industrial Complex, as you can see from the above analysis, it is really designed to free the hacker in all of us. Happy Hacking!