House Cool to Copy Protection

The U.S. House of Representatives doesn’t seem willing to intercede in an increasingly bitter dispute over embedding copy protection controls in all consumer electronic devices.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives doesn’t seem willing to intercede in an increasingly bitter dispute over embedding copy protection controls in all consumer electronic devices.

Key legislators in the House have indicated they’re skeptical of the government mandating anti-piracy technology, an approach that Democrats of the Senate Commerce Committee endorsed during a hearing last Thursday.

Fretting that online piracy of digital content will imperil sales, Hollywood studios have asked Congress to bypass their negotiations with Silicon Valley firms by requiring that all PCs and consumer electronics sport technology to prohibit illicit copying. Senate Commerce Chairman Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina) has championed this approach.

“Mr. Coble believes Hollings’ approach would have the government mandate specific software standards governing encryption or access to copyrighted works, which are transmitted digitally in lieu of negotiated industry standards,” said a spokesman for Rep. Howard Coble (R-North Carolina), the chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property.

Spokesman Terry Shawn said: “He is concerned that this approach is too interventionist and could lead to standards which favor certain brands of software over others, and which could quickly become obsolete as technology improves or changes.”

Hollings has drafted, but has not introduced, legislation called the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA). A version of the SSSCA obtained by Wired News would prohibit creating, selling or distributing “any interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies.”

The SSSCA defines an interactive digital device as any hardware or software capable of “storing, retrieving, processing, performing, transmitting, receiving or copying information in digital form.”

“Hollings’ bill would mandate copy protection chips on all sorts of hardware and machines in the same way that the V-chip was mandated on television sets,” said Richard Diamond, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas).

Diamond said his boss, one of the more vocal members of the Republican Party’s free-market wing, doesn’t like the government requiring standards: “Rep. Armey found the V-chip inappropriate too.”

There is no legislation similar to the SSSCA in the House, and given the House Republican leadership’s apparent opposition to it, no House version of the SSSCA seems likely to appear anytime soon.

One explanation for the opposition to Hollings’ approach may not be principle but politics. The House this week voted 273-157 for a Republican-backed broadband bill — the Tauzin-Dingell legislation — that Hollings has vowed to block in the Senate.

During last Thursday’s hearing in the Senate, it was the Democratic members of the committee who proclaimed the need to legislate — while Republican senators such as John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) said they “would be extremely hesitant regarding any proposal for government to mandate copy-protection technology.”

Witnesses testifying at the hearing included Walt Disney chairman Michael Eisner, News Corp. president Peter Chernin and Intel Executive vice president Leslie Vadasz.

Also, in the 2000 election cycle, the entertainment industry handed Democrats a whopping $24.2 million in contributions compared to $13.3 million to Republicans, according to

Not all House Republicans in a position to influence a future SSSCA are so critical of the idea.

Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said his colleagues had reviewed an early draft of the SSSCA. Hollings has refused to release newer drafts.

“We agree with Sen. Hollings that a solution to this problem has to be found,” Johnson said, adding that committee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana) supports the concept of the SSSCA.

Tauzin prefers that Hollywood and Silicon Valley work out a solution first, but “we haven’t shut the door” on legislation, Johnson said.

A spokesman for the Democrats of the House Judiciary Committee said they had not reviewed the SSSCA and had no comment.

Robert Zarate contributed to this report.

Author: Declan McCullagh

News Service: Wired News


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