Kermit Snelson on Fri, 3 May 2002 01:20:02 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] how laws and sausages are made

The so-called "Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act" has
been dead in the US Senate for over a month now, thanks to a courageous
stand by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).  But this abomination will eventually be
back, and every US voter and activist needs to know what the following
editorial has to say about the bill's sordid ingredients.

Kermit Snelson

You Don't Always Get What You Pay For
by Jonathan Erickson
Dr. Dobb's Journal
June 2002

When all is said and done, the legislation that started out as the "Security
Systems Standards and Certification Act," then renamed as the "Consumer
Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act," will likely be remembered
as the "Baby (in Congress) Needs a New Pair of Shoes Act."

Introduced by Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-SC), cosigned by Ted Stevens (R-AK),
Daniel Inouye (D-HI), John Breaux (D-LA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Dianne
Feinstein (D-CA), and funded by the TV, movie, and music industries, the
CBDTPA proposes to dictate copy protection for all digital content and
devices.  More specifically, proposed law S.2048.IS (see [1]) prohibits the
sale or distribution of electronic devices that fail to incorporate or
conform to federal copy-protection standards.  The standards Hollings and
his gang have in mind mandate that copy-protection controls be embedded in
every computer, digital media device, or "any hardware or software
that...reproduces copyrighted works in digital form...or retrieves or
accesses copyrighted works in digital form."  This would include word
processing programs, spreadsheets, operating systems, databases,
communication programs, and just about every other application we use day in
and day out.  For programmers, this means that every program we write and
distribute  for sale or for free, in object- or source-code form  must
include government-sanctioned code.  In all likelihood, the scam would work
something like this:  All digital content would have some kind of
do-not-copy bit embedded in it, and all software and hardware would be
required to recognize and act upon this bit.

Likewise, it would be illegal for you to download noncompliant programs or
source code written in other countries.  Violate Hollings's law for
commercial purposes and you'll go to jail for five years, alongside
murderers, drug dealers, energy company executives, and members of Congress
who've gotten caught.  You'll also pay a $500,000 fine.  As a further means
of aid and compensation to piracy "victims" (aka multibillion dollar TV,
movie, and music companies), Hollings would grant them the right to request
search warrants, impound or destroy equipment used in illegal activities,
and be reimbursed for attorney's fees, lost profits, and actual damages.

In a statement justifying his Taliban-like proposals, Hollings decrys the
"lawlessness" of the high-tech industry and university students, saying that
"piracy is growing exponentially on college campuses and among tech savvy
consumers" [2].

Still, you have to wonder why Hollings is so het up, especially considering
the state he represents isn't known as a TV, movie, or music hub.  No, what
appears to be revving the gang's motors is the $264,000 Hollings has
accepted from the TV, movie, and music industries since 1997 (see [3]),
along with Feinstein's $214,638, Breaux's $122,920, Nelson's $59,300,
Stevens's $56,370, and Inouye's $51,852.  All in all, the TV/movie/music
industries have showered our elected officials in Congress with more than
$60 million since 1998.  In return, the TV/movie/music industries get

In a most disingenuous statement, Hollings puffs that "America's creative
artists deserve our protection."  Be clear about one thing: CBDTPA has
nothing to do with protecting the rights of artists.  What it is about is
protecting corporate stock prices and executive bonuses  the TV/movie/music
industries have never shown concern about protecting the rights of artists.
And then there's the always compassionate Jack Valenti, president of the
Motion Picture Association of America, who says CBDTPA will "serve the
long-term interests of consumers."  Right.

Curiously, Hollings's proposed law promotes open-source software: "...the
security system standards shall ensure, to the extent practicable,
that...any software portion of such standards is based on open-source code."
Of course, this strange, but welcomed, clause doesn't absolve open-source
developers who stray outside CBDTPA's guidelines from lawsuits or criminal
charges.  If anything, in fact, CBDTPA curtails the open-source movement
because of the worldwide, distributed nature of open-source development.

Not wanting to be left off the CBDTPA bandwagon, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)
announced he will introduce similar legislation in the House of
Representatives.  To be fair, Schiff does represent the 27th district of
California, the home of studios for Disney, Warner Brothers, NBC, ABC,
Nickelodeon, the Black Entertainment Television, and DreamWorks SKG.  That
said, you'd think that he would have done better than the measly $19,435 he
got from the TV/movie/music industries.  Maybe he should compare notes with
his neighbor, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), who also supports CBDTPA, but
pocketed $144,541.

However, sounder minds have prevailed  at least for the time being. Sen.
Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee that has
jurisdiction over the proposal, has said he does not support CBDTPA and will
prevent it from being enacted into law this year. The TV, movie, and music
industries are probably kicking themselves, knowing they probably could have
put to better uses the $159,230 they gave to Leahy.


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