Thursday, February 28, 2002

Techies like to complain about Microsoft products, but some of their useful features wouldn't be found in anybody else's product. The EU recently released the text of of a proposed directive allowing for software patents, and because it was released as a Microsoft Word document, we know who last edited the thing --- Francisco Mingorance, a top lobbyist for the Business Software Alliance.

If that sort of legislative process appeals to you, you'll love the SSSCA. This bill, being championed by Senator Fritz Hollings (D-Disney) (hearings today!), would require all "interactive digital devices" to employ "certified security technologies" which would "protect" digital content. The definition of "interactive digital device" is as broad as can be imagined:

The term "interactive digital device" means any machine, device, product, software, or technology, whether or not included with or as part of some other machine, device, product, software, or technology, that is designed, marketed or used for the primary purpose of, and that is capable of, storing, retrieving, processing, performing, transmitting, receiving, or copying information in digital form.

In other words, all computer software would need to have copyright cops embedded.

Where this gets really fun is the process by which the security technologies get certified. After the bill gets passed, the electronics and software manufacturers get a year or so to negotiate with "representatives of copyright owners" about security standards. If those negotiations conclude, the Secretary of Commerce is required by the bill to adopt whatever they come up with as recommendations, which acquire the force of law. So, in effect, this bill would explicitly delgate regulatory authority to large corporations.

On the other hand, if a year goes by and the electronics and software industries haven't knuckled under, the Secretary is required by the bill to initiate rulemaking which will give the copyright holders what they want.

Do I exaggerate? Well, slightly --- if the parties "appear to be negotiating in good faith", the Secretary can grant the electronics and software industries a six-month reprieve. But only one. Aside from that, if you don't think it's really that bad, I'd invite you once again to read the text of the bill.

Disney thinks this is "an exceedingly moderate and reasonable approach". It's good to know they're not going to extremes.


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