Unlike Barack Obama (and John Kerry, for that matter), Joe Biden has an actual record of legislative accomplishment in the Senate. The record shows a career focused mainly on crime, which gave Biden some substance in his claims as a moderate. One bill in particular, though, may create a lot more problems among Obama’s youthful supporters than he will bring to the ticket. Biden crafted the Perform Act, and as Declan McCullagh notes, that and more of Biden’s record on tech issues could antagonize Obama’s college-age base:
By choosing Joe Biden as their vice presidential candidate, the Democrats have selected a politician with a mixed record on technology who has spent most of his Senate career allied with the FBI and copyright holders, who ranks toward the bottom of CNET’s Technology Voters’ Guide, and whose anti-privacy legislation was actually responsible for the creation of PGP. …
After taking over the Foreign Relations committee, Biden became a staunch ally of Hollywood and the recording industry in their efforts to expand copyright law. He sponsored a bill in 2002 that would have make it a federal felony to trick certain types of devices into playing unauthorized music or executing unapproved computer programs. Biden’s bill was backed by content companies including News Corp. but eventually died after Verizon, Microsoft, Apple, eBay, and Yahoo lobbied against it.
A few months later, Biden signed a letter that urged the Justice Department “to prosecute individuals who intentionally allow mass copying from their computer over peer-to-peer networks.” Critics of this approach said that the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America, and not taxpayers, should pay for their own lawsuits.
Last year, Biden sponsored an RIAA-backed bill called the Perform Act aimed at restricting Americans’ ability to record and play back individual songs from satellite and Internet radio services.
Biden has more bad news in his record on tech issues. Biden has at times backed Internet taxes, which would act as a protectionist measure to brick-and-mortar businesses. Biden also attempted several times to undermine Internet encryption schemes, bills that eventually morphed into portions of the Patriot Act, which he supported, and led to the establishment of open-source PGP.
Conservatives and property-rights adherents can find some comfort in these conflicting positions. For the most part, the RIAA has the correct argument in their fight against online file sharing on copyrighted material. Biden’s bills went too far in putting the government in place of the RIAA as plaintiff, but the instinct was mostly correct. Material under copyright belongs to the copyright holder, who has the right to profit from the publication of the work, and those who duplicate and distribute the material without permission and without payment should suffer legal and financial consequences.
However, it’s fair to say that this opinion does not find great favor among the 18-29-year-old set on which Obama has rested his hopes for victory. Adding the great Senate champion of the RIAA to his ticket might impact their enthusiasm, perhaps markedly so. The advocates of P2P networks complain that Biden unfairly shuts them out of public hearings, and of other heavy-handed tactics during committee meetings. Biden also shrugs at the Net Neutrality movement, dismissing calls for legislation as unnecessary — even though his running mate strongly supported government intervention.
Most of this will fly over the heads of older voters, but for college-age voters, these are hot buttons that Biden keeps pressing. They will not appreciate his efforts on behalf of industry stalwarts like the RIAA and MPAA, and if enough of them hear about it, their enthusiasm could dim even further for Obama.