Hollywood Loves Hollings’ Bill

Entertainment industry lobbyists say programmers and open-source activists should not be alarmed by a controversial proposal to embed copy-protection controls in nearly all PCs and consumer electronic devices.

WASHINGTON — Entertainment industry lobbyists say programmers and open-source activists should not be alarmed by a controversial proposal to embed copy-protection controls in nearly all PCs and consumer electronic devices.

In interviews Monday, representatives of the Walt Disney Company and News Corp. defended a draft of the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA) as a reasonable compromise that will spur high-speed Internet access and boost hardware sales.

“This is an exceedingly moderate and reasonable approach,” said Preston Padden, executive vice president of the Walt Disney Company, which helped to craft the legislation.

Wired News has obtained a draft of the SSSCA, which Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina), chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, plans to introduce this month.

“We think it’s likely to jumpstart the broadband revolution, because entertainment content will create consumer demand,” Padden said. “If you’re a computer company or if you make hubs and routers or if you’re trying to build a broadband network, you want this bill.”

“This bill is going to speed the entertainment content into the online broadband environment, create consumer demand and get broadband going.”

Padden and his allies in the content community view the SSSCA as a kind of supplement to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which increased legal protections for digital content.

Additional support for Hollings’ bill is expected to come from the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America.

But the DMCA has already spawned lawsuits, prosecutions and geektavists marching against it in the streets, and its successor promises to be no less divisive.

“Whatever tiny gaps may have existed in the DMCA are now plugged,” said Peter Jaszi, a professor of law at American University who helped to organize an anti-DMCA alliance called the Digital Future Coalition.

“If this would go forward, it would be a huge gift for the fair-use community. It would be right up there with Sklyarov,” says Jaszi, talking about the outcry the DMCA prosecution of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov has caused. “It would be an amazing mobilizing tool.”

The polarization has already begun.

An anti-SSSCA petition is underway. MIT professor Ron Rivest, one of cryptography’s leading lights, has dubbed the SSSCA the “Digital Rectal Thermometer Security Act.” And the outcry among programmers matches the protests heard during the era of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

A person close to the Senate Commerce committee said that discussions with industry groups over the past few weeks will continue and that the final bill could change. The source said, however, that “not much” has been rewritten since the Aug. 6 draft obtained by Wired News.

“What I do bristle at is some tech companies’ suggestions that we’re going to force the re-engineering of products,” the source said. “This doesn’t contemplate a single change to any product that’s on the shelf or for any product probably in the next two to three years. We’re talking years from now before this will even have an effect.” (The draft legislation grandfathers existing products.)

The draft SSSCA says it is illegal to create, sell or distribute “any interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies” to be approved by the U.S. Commerce Department. If industry groups cannot agree on a security standard after one to two years have elapsed, the Commerce Department will step in.

“We believe that legislation will be necessary to fill some of the gaps that cannot be negotiated, or to implement a negotiated agreement,” said Rick Lane, a lobbyist for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.. “Those talks are ongoing right now.”

“We want to work on a solution that helps us stymie what we consider illegal distribution of our product across the Net,” said Lane, who also said that illicit copies of the Planet of the Apes movie, created by News Corp.’s 20th Century Fox studio, are already circulating online. “We’re willing to discuss options — realistic options — with folks to achieve our goal.”

The draft SSSCA also creates new federal felonies, punishable by five years in prison and fines of up to $500,000, for “anyone who distributes copyrighted material with ‘security measures’ disabled or has a network-attached sever configured to disable copy protection.”

That doesn’t satisfy Jonathan Potter, the executive director of the Digital Media Association, who says he’s stridently opposed to the measure.

“It’s about as egregiously an anti-technology bill, in its draft form, as anything I’ve ever seen,” Potter said. “It would have the United States government approving or disapproving every semiconductor, every server and essentially any digital information technology device prior to coming to market.”

Disney’s Padden downplays the differences between his position and those of groups such as Potter’s.

“Unlike earlier drafts, this draft defers hugely to the private sector and the high-tech firms,” Padden said. “In earlier drafts, the government just set a content protection standard. In this draft, the high-tech industry is given 18 months to negotiate with each other. It even provides the high-tech companies with antitrust exemptions.”

Author: Declan McCullagh

News Service: Wired News

URL: http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,46671,00.html

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: