Music and record industry lobbyists are quietly readying an all-out assault on Congress this fall in hopes of dramatically rewriting copyright laws. With the help of Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), the powerful chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, they hope to embed copy-protection controls in nearly all consumer electronic devices and PCs. All types of digital content, including music, video and e-books, are covered.
WASHINGTON — Music and record industry lobbyists are quietly readying an all-out assault on Congress this fall in hopes of dramatically rewriting copyright laws.
With the help of Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), the powerful chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, they hope to embed copy-protection controls in nearly all consumer electronic devices and PCs. All types of digital content, including music, video and e-books, are covered.
The Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA), scheduled to be introduced by Hollings, backs up this requirement with teeth: It would be a civil offense to create or sell any kind of computer equipment that “does not include and utilize certified security technologies” approved by the federal government.
It also creates new federal felonies, punishable by five years in prison and fines of up to $500,000. Anyone who distributes copyrighted material with “security measures” disabled or has a network-attached computer that disables copy protection is covered.
Hollings’ draft bill, which Wired News obtained on Friday, represents the next round of the ongoing legal tussle between content holders and their opponents, including librarians, programmers and open-source advocates.
Hollywood executives fret that without strong copy protection in widespread use, piracy will allow digital versions of movies to be pirated as readily as MP3 audio files once were with Napster. With the SSSCA enacted, the thinking goes, U.S. technology firms will have no choice but to insert copy-protection technology in future products.
The last legislative salvo in the content wars was the controversial 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which the SSSCA extends and expands. Under existing law, Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov has been charged with allegedly selling “circumvention” devices, and 2600 magazine has been sued for distributing a DVD-decryption utility.
“The government is mandating what your technology has to do,” says Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation of the SSSCA. “The government’s now in some ways effectively writing code that anyone who makes anything with a microprocessor has to implement in anything they make. I’m unaware of any other requirement like that.”
Hollings’ aides could not be reached for comment on Friday. One lobbyist opposing the legislation said Disney, which markets movies and TV shows, is the measure’s most ardent supporter among industry groups.
The SSSCA and existing law work hand in hand to steer the market toward using only computer systems where copy protection is enabled. First, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act created the legal framework that punished people who bypassed copy protection — and now, the SSSCA is intended to compel Americans to buy only systems with copy protection on by default.
The SSSCA says that it is illegal to create, sell or distribute “any interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies” that are approved by the U.S. Commerce Department. An interactive digital device is defined as any hardware or software capable of “storing, retrieving, processing, performing, transmitting, receiving or copying information in digital form.”
Jessica Litman, a law professor at Wayne State University who specializes in intellectual property, likened it to the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act that slapped restrictions on digital audio recorders.
“This appears to be an attempt to expand the concept to anything that has a microprocessor in it and to have everyone agree or to have the government set technological standards that will enforce copyright owners’ preferences,” Litman says.
“Forgetting all the reasons why this is bad copyright policy and bad information policy, it’s terrible science policy,” she says.
Sonia Arrison, a technology policy analyst at the free-market Pacific Research Institute, said, “Some parts of this go too far…. Would this mean that if I distributed a file that I received from someone who had broken security technology that I would be breaking the law? Sounds like it.”
Under the SSSCA, industry groups have a year to agree on a security standard, or the Commerce Department will step in and decide on one. Sunshine laws would not apply to meetings held in conjunction with the law, and industry organizations would be immune from antitrust prosecution.
Author: Declan McCullagh
News Service: Wired News