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Randall Twede
Article Presentation

The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act

As I mentioned in my last article presentation(on the DMCA), there is a new and even more sinister law in the works. In 2001, Senator Hollings introduced a draft bill called the "Security Systems Standards and Certification Act" (SSSCA). On March 21st, 2002, the SSSCA became an official bill under the new name of the "Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act" (CBDTPA). Where do they come up with these names? I only used three sources this time as this bill is easier to understand than the DMCA. It's effects however are immensely greater. This bill will effect everyone if it becomes a law. I will first explain what the bill proposes and then talk about the effects it will have on manufacturers, consumers, and programmers.

The CBDTPA proposes requiring every consumer electronics manufacturer, every computer maker, every Internet company, and every programmer or software company who want to distribute code, build government approved or mandated copyright protection into all future versions of their technologies. To quote Declan McCullagh, "A bill introduced this week by Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina) would roil the electronics industry by forcibly embedding copy protection into all digital devices, from MP3 players to cell phones, fax machines, digital cameras and personal computers."1

Before talking about the effect this will have on manufacturers, let's look at what effect it will have on the content companies such as music and video and publishing companies. It sure looks like a sweet deal to me! They get to use the government to offset their burdens onto other sectors of industry.

The proposed law would be an unfair burden on manufacturers and consumers. Consider this, Edward Felten has observed that "every copy protection scheme for general purpose computers that has undergone serious public scrutiny has been found to be ineffective. Consider what will happen if a government mandated protection measure turns out not to work. Such a measure would do many things: it would inconvenience honest consumers; it would raise the price of media players; it would lengthen product development cycles; it would impede the development of new and better standards. Everyone would suffer, except the pirates. The industry that devised the measure would look technically inept, and the government that mandated its use would look worse."2

The proposed law would also hurt programmers and software companies. Again quoting Declan McCullagh, "No more than two years and seven months after the bill becomes law, the only code programmers and software firms will be able to distribute must have embedded copy-protection schemes approved by the federal government. That's not just Windows media players and their brethren, as you might expect. The CBDTPA's sweeping definition of 'any hardware or software' includes word processors, spreadsheets, operating systems, compilers, programming languages….According to the CBDTPA, any software with the ability to reproduce 'copyrighted works' may not be sold in the United States after the Federal Communications Commission's regulations take effect. Even programmers who distribute their code for free would be prohibited from releasing newer versions -- unless the application included federally approved technology."3

"Because the rest of the world hardly seems eager to enact a similar law -- at least not immediately -- the CBDTPA would effectively erect an informational firewall around America. It could become unlawful for U.S. programmers to distribute any newly developed non-compliant code after the CBDTPA takes effect. Because the CBDTPA also regulates importing software, it could be illegal to download non-compliant code from overseas."4

"Because the free software and open-source movements rely so much on international collaboration, the CBDTPA's firewall-at-the-border would create knotty problems for programmers living in the United States. If the CBDTPA were to be enacted, American developers would be sharply restricted in their ability to collaborate with their counterparts overseas. In a worst-case interpretation, for instance, the CBDTPA means that only pre-ban versions of the Linux operating system could legally be sold inside U.S. borders."5

I share the concerns expressed by the authors of the articles I read. The CBDTPA does not protect "fair use" and it undermines innovation. "Innovation is defined as discovering and imagining unanticipated uses of technology. This conflicts directly with the approach of the CBDTPA. Imagine if the CBDTPA had been in place soon after the invention of television. The creators of television never imagined the VCR. Any definition of 'legal use' would not have included the ability to record a program and watch it later. Therefore, that use would have been illegal. Any attempt to invent a VCR would have been forbidden because the creators of the law would not have anticipated it.No one can predict the future of technology. Implementing a law that tries to make such predictions is dangerous."6 The proposed law is unworkable. To quote Professor Felton, "A standard for copy protection is as premature as a standard for teleportation." Fortunately, some members of congress are skeptical of Senator Hollings' approach as well.

The intended audience of one of the articles is consumers, another was adapted from a talk before the CATO institute panel on copyright issues, and the third was intended for programmers. This subject is related to this class because the proposed law would allow one sector of industry to control others and unfairly shift its burdens onto them. It is a good example of government meddling in the private sector. It just came to my attention that Senator Hollings, now referred to as Senator Disney in some circles, has proposed yet another bill called the Online Personal Privacy Act. I will talk about this new proposal from our 'esteemed' senator next time.