- Sep 8, 2001New Copyright Bill Heading to DC
By Declan McCullagh
4:19 p.m. Sep. 7, 2001 PDT
WASHINGTON -- Music and record industry lobbyists are quietly readying an
all-out assault on Congress this fall in hopes of dramatically rewriting
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
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.
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