Thursday, March 07, 2002

A Really Bad Idea

Glenn Reynolds has a good column today on the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act, which would mandate the inclusion of copy-protection in every digital device and every computer operating system. The Libertarian Samizdata blogspot recently published an equally persuasive letter by Paul Allen on this issue, which is worth quoting at some length. Mr. Allen writes:

As any programmer worth his/her salt will attest, given the resources, anything that can be programmed into a computer can be programmed out, or worked around. In the case of copy protection such as the SSSCA would require, the resources needed for circumventing it is simply the source code for the operating system of the computer, and/or other source code for applications used on the computer (such as one of the many free video/audio layers available). Now given the wording of the SSSCA, along with the DMCA and other supporting laws, it stands to reason that such Free Software would suddenly become a target for legislation. Such legislation logically may require such software to be judged illegal. Such a decision may have serious consequences to the IT industry as well as the entertainment industry and the consumer as well. Little may the consumer or entertainment industry know, but much of the technology they rely upon today is provided at low cost by Free Software. Take that software away, and suddenly doing business costs a lot more, and eventually the consumer just will not be willing to pay for it.

Now aside from the consequences to Free Software, what about the consequences to those who do not use such software. Imagine that home movie you shot last weekend on vacation. Now you wish to send that home movie to a relative, friend, whoever, over the Internet, or place it on your web site for all to download. Well, with many of the protection technologies suggested, this would not be possible, or would be extremely difficult. Some of these technologies require digital watermarks to be placed in the media, for one example. CD burners, digital cameras, etc. can not make these watermarks. The copy protection works by checking for such a watermark, and if it does not exist, the system either will not allow the media to be played, or will not allow it to be transmitted over the Internet as the case may be. So much for sending your cousin your latest home movie, or allowing your whole family to see it from your web site. An additional problem is all current media, including CDs and DVDs, you may currently legally own would not work on proposed new CD and DVD players with copy protection hardware. You would not be able to copy CDs, tapes, or anything else that you legally own in order to exercise your right to fair use, so as to listen to that CD on the cassette deck in your car.

I could go on, but I think this is long enough and has given some food for thought. Besides, I have work to do. Election time is near, so think about what that person you are voting for represents. Think about actually writing a letter to a congressman or other legislator, to a magazine (I actually had one published once, so its not beyond the realms of possibility), newpaper, etc. Many people have the attitude that they can do nothing and make no difference. Well, I say to them they are right, because there are so many people with that attitude, that none of them do anything and they make no difference in doing so. The ones that make the difference, are the ones taking a stance, and the ones taking the stance are the ones that are causing these ridiculous laws to be passed. Guess who those people are?...

Email is particularly effective.