SSSCA Redux – Step one on the road to a Technologically Totalitarian State has already been taken, now we’re on to step two.

A proposed bill with heavyweight support from the entertainment industry garners distrust from technology factions; it would make creating, selling or distributing digital systems without embedded copy protection a crime.

The witness list for Thursday’s event includes Walt Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, Intel Vice President Leslie Vadasz and Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti.

Hollings’ spokesman, Andy Davis, says the hearing is meant to discuss whether the government must step in and mandate standards — which Hollywood believes will allow movies to be distributed safely online, spur high-speed Internet access, and boost hardware sales. The idea is opposed by many technology firms, programmers and open-source devotees.

“The technology community doesn’t want any standards regardless of what form they take. There’s an impasse that needs to be bridged if we want to create broadband services and increase consumer demand for those services,” Davis said on Tuesday.

Last August, Hollings circulated a proposal called the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA) that prohibits creating, selling or distributing “any interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies.” A draft obtained by Wired News says that if industry groups cannot agree on a security standard after one to two years have elapsed, the U.S. Commerce Department would step in.

But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks shifted Congress’ focus elsewhere, and Hollings never introduced the SSSCA. Only recently has the topic of intellectual property protection received attention again.

“That’s the whole point of the hearing. He’s not introducing anything on Thursday. But that’s what (the committee) is trying to figure out here: Does the situation require legislative action?” Davis said.

MPAA’s Jack Valenti, the consummate Washington insider, launched a pre-emptive strike this week in the pages of The Washington Post. In an opinion article published Monday, Valenti said the movie industry is eager to distribute its wares online — but is afraid of widespread piracy.

Valenti wrote: “What’s keeping the movie industry from making its creativity theft-proof? Simply put, in order to transport movies as agreed to by the consumer on a rent, buy, or pay-per-view basis with heightened security, computers and video devices must be prepared to react to instructions embedded in the film.”

A representative for the Walt Disney Company declined to comment for this article. But in September, a Disney lobbyist defended Hollings’ draft SSSCA as “an exceedingly moderate and reasonable approach.”

The technology industry, long wary of standards mandated by politicians and imposed by bureaucrats, has been far more suspicious.

Intel, which will testify on Thursday, said that Hollings’ SSSCA approach is far too regulatory. “We don’t think government-mandated technology solutions are in the best interests of consumers or anyone else,” said Intel spokeswoman Sue Richard.

Also this week, the Recording Industry Association of America published data saying that music sales were down 10 percent last year and online piracy and CD burning were a “large factor contributing to the decrease.”

The draft SSSCA 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 server configured to disable copy protection.”

The SSSCA and existing law work hand-in-hand to steer the market toward adopting only computer systems where copy protection is enabled. First, the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) created the legal framework that punished people who bypassed copy protection — and now, the SSSCA would compel Americans to buy only systems with copy protection on by default. Davis says: “I think the DMCA was a first step.”

The DMCA sparked controversy after the eight largest movie studios successfully used it to stop 2600 magazine from distributing the DeCSS DVD-descrambling program. In November, a federal appeals court ruled the DMCA did not violate the First Amendment and 2600 must delete the utility.

Author: Declan McCullagh

News Service: Wired News


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