SSSCA . . .

SSSCA stands for the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act. It is draft legislation (which hasn’t offically been submitted as a bill), and its sponsors recently had some hearings.

Why is this bill being introduced? Let its primary sponsor, Senator Ernest Hollings, speak for himself (and pretty much for the content providers, too).

“. . . there is almost no legal, high quality content available on the Internet. Why? Because there is no single, open standard
providing technological protection to copyrighted products to give content owners the confidence to place their premium content online.

“. . . [I]n an era when products are delivered digitally, the copyright laws mean less and less. Absent strong technological protections layered
on top of the copyright laws, it is virtually impossible to enforce the law as it exists.

“Those Americans who do access top notch content online are often stealing it. Every week a major magazine or newspaper reports on the thousands
of illegal pirated works that are available for copying and redistribution online. Acadamy Award winning motion pictures, platinum records, and Emmy Award winning television shows– all for free, all illegal.

“When Congress sits idly by in the face of these activities, we essentially sanction the Internet as a haven for thievery. This problem cannot be minimized. Piracy is growing
expotentially on college campuses and among tech saavy consumers. Over ten million people use file sharing sites on the Internet to download movies, songs, and TV shows, with no penalty.

“The consumer electronics and high tech industries claim they are ready to solve these problems. I want to believe them, but I am not sure. Industry negotiation have been going on for years with little to show for it. Both sides share some blame in this area, but as I see it, the tech industry has mixed incentives . . . . [T]ech companies profit from
the sale of consumer electronics equipment that enables piracy in the first place. So when I listen to high tech’s clarion call to the government, “Please stay away from our business” I am reminded a bit of the police chief in Casablanca who feigned surprise and said,
“I am shocked there is gambling going on here.”

Senator Stevens and I are planning legislation that would place a deadline on affected industries to come together to solve these problems in private sector talks. If they do, we will empower government enforcement so that all
consumer devices comply with the private sector’s solution. If they don’t, the government’s technologists and engineers, in consultation with the private sector will step in. This would not be the first time Congress imposed technological requirements to benefit consumers, and it won’t be the last.”

Actions Have Consequences

Something like this is inevitable. Sooner or later, something that addresses these issues will become law. Period. All the hysterics and pouting and name-calling and pseudolaw in the world isn’t going to stop it, because these are legitimate issues. Intellectual property on the Internet needs and will get protection.

Now exactly how this will end up being done, under what terms and conditions it will be done, and what will or will not constitute “fair use” is a different matter. You can agree that something needs to be done, and not agree with how this bill goes about it. That’s our position.

We oppose this bill for different reasons that are being stated around this community so far.

However, we also think that believing that absolutely nothing should or will be done is just nuts and completely unrealistic.

High Tech vs. Hollywood

The Hollywood people are the folks with the goodies. The high-tech people are the people who makes the safes.

The Hollywood people want a crack-proof safe, then throw away the key. They couldn’t care less about what that does to the computer hardware business.

The high tech people don’t terribly want to be burdened with something that in all likelihood will screw up their hardware to at least some extent, and find Hollywood a bunch of technoramus control freaks who have been wrong before and are wrong now. They think the kind of crack-proof safe the Hollywood people want, if it’s even buildable, is short-sighted and will greatly stifle legitimate use of digital media.

As the person from Intel put it, “do not buy into a view of content protection [that turns the PC into] nothing more than a more expensive . . . “dumb” DVD player.”

There’s something to be said for that.

The Hollywood people, on the other hand, say things like the following:

“. . . [O}ther high tech companies have simply lectured us that they have no obligation to help solve what they describe as “our problem.” In fact, at least one high tech executive has described illegal pirate content
as a “killer application” that will drive consumer demand for broadband.”

There’s something to be said for that, too.

Unfortunately, the person from Intel was really good at describing what was wrong with the content providers, but so bad at suggesting solutions other than suggesting approval for one that he was reprimanded by Senator Hollings as a result.

The person from Cisco at least suggested something, which involves 128-bit encryption.

Advantage: Hollywood

Right now, the advantage between Hollywood and high tech is with high tech. They’re the ones who have to make this work and if they don’t want to, Hollywood can’t make them. What can Hollywood do, ban Intel employees from Blockbuster?

What the Hollings bill does is give Hollywood the advantage. By saying, there will be something no matter what, Hollywood can stick to its guns. They can stonewall knowing that when push comes to shove, the high tech people will have to buckle in the end or face the government bureaucratic bogeyman.

That’s the first way the Hollings bill favors Hollywood, but that’s not the critical one. The second way the Hollings bill favors Hollywood is not by what it says, but what it doesn’t say.

The Hollings bill only provides for one instance of fair use (which boils down to videotaping of digital TV and is actually not applicable to the PC/Internet realm). This is the fatal flaw to the bill and why we (and you) should oppose it as it is.

If the bill said, “OK, high tech/Hollywood, come up with a standard that must allow for the following instances of fair use,” Hollywood will get the bill for this legislation. They’ll no doubt fight that tooth-and-claw, but getting such consumer protections out of legislation will be harder than getting them in. Once those requirements are in law, technical standards will then be build around them, and again, it’s harder to get them out later than to get them in.

In short, a consumer bill of rights, so to speak, for fair use. This would at least include the typical fair uses allowed in other media. If you wanted to legalize MP3s, for instance, here’s where you’d stick it into the law. This is how you’d go about doing it.

Can The Hollings Bill Pass?

Maybe. Under normal circumstances, this one seems to be so much the content creator’s baby and ignores consumers so much that a combination of high tech and consumer lobbying would defeat it as is.

However, high tech doesn’t shine as brightly these days, and geek consumers will get absolutely nowhere with the sort of tantrums I’ve been seeing around lately. Throw all the hissy fits you like, but if you don’t have a real answer to “if not this way, then how do we stop the stealing,” you will not be taken seriously, and the well-financed lobbyists will. Congress will choose lousy over ludicrous every single time.

Even if the Hollings bill dies, though, eventually something fairly similar to it will come up.

It will almost certainly involve the use of “policeware” which will be meant to block the use of illegal-obtained digital media. Will it be perfect, or even very good to begin with? Probably not, but it won’t matter. This will be the price we’ll all pay for the warez, MP3, etc. puppies.

Will it require government mandates on hardware? Yes, and they’ll be followed by the manufacturers. Maybe there will be a black market for hard drives meant to be sold in Afghanistan or something, but that’s the best you could expect.

Will there be criminal penalties for those who break the protection? Don’t see how they can skip that. When we asked a while back about it, a credible threat of hard time seemed to be the only thing that got people’s attention. Enforcement of that to the average Joe Blow might be a little tricky constitutionally, but stolen property has never been protected under the Fourth Amendment.

Pandering to Peter

I know articles like this don’t exactly increase our popularity. Most other places either stay quiet or just pander to the pretty sizable chunk of the audience that does this.

Getting all the music or software and/or movies you want for free must be fun, but the days where the Internet is Never Never Land are numbered. Unlike Peter Pan’s place, grownups can and will move in, and they bring laws and rules with them.

And if you don’t like some of the rules the grownups bring with them (and there is some reason for that), the answer to that is not “get out of Never Never Land.” That’s just as much a delusion as thinking Never Never Land could last.

Sorry, but unlike Peter Pan, we all have to grow up, and anybody telling you otherwise is doing you no favor.

Email Ed

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