Bring on the SSSCA!

Posted 11 Apr 2002 at 19:14 UTC by shlomif Share This

Bring on the SSSCA! Why? Because I want to kick some serious intellectual property Law Butt! I have nothing against the concept of intellectual property. I believe it is also valid now, in the information age. However, I do believe that IP Law is objectively tilted towards the wrong side, and I wish to change the fact. And legislation of the SSSCA (or CBDPTA as it is now called)[1] is the perfect vehicle to make it gain momentum.

I will not describe it in detail here, as many sources described it better than me. I refer you to the Linux Weekly News review, or their news section which contains links to other editorials. Basically, what the SSSCA says is that all digital devices and computer software must implement mandatory provisions for copyright protection. Breaking those provisions, or not implementing them in the first place, could result in an indictment under civil or even criminal law.

Let's imagine a world in which the SSSCA has been passed (in the U.S. alone for the time), and it has taken effect. What would happen? Here's my predictions based on the commonplace interpretation of the law:

  1. Most existing software and hardware systems becoming illegal. Literally. This includes open-source and commercial software. Windows XP, Microsoft's latest operating system lets people hear "pirated" mp3s, or doesn't it? Then, obviously it has to go.

    ( A correspondent of mine implied that they will only become "grandfathered" and still can be used without restrictions. But releasing new versions of them would be impossible. As time does not stand still, and new software has to accommodate for the changes, it will eventually have the same effect.)

  2. Hardware and software vendors will need to invest a lot of money in building copyright protection into their products.

  3. Someone will have to finance this development, and later on converting the legacy systems into the SSSCA-sound devices.

  4. This someone is the U.S. Government. It is one of the foundation of the democratic process that the government must finance the actions that needed to be taken to implement a given act. Software vendors cannot implement the SSSCA's provisions for free, so they will demand the U.S. government finances them.

  5. I'm not really good at approximating things like that, but I think this amount of money can easily surpass the current U.S. Budget. And I mean the entire budget, defense budget and all.

  6. Assuming they are forced to switch, then people will have to put up with computers, that are not quite those that they were used to. Not only that Moore's Law will be temporarily reversed, but those systems will not put up with many actions that are considered mundane and day-to-day now. Even such that are perfectly sound copyright-wise.

  7. This will make everybody unhappy and they demand the law to be changed.

  8. Most programmers or text-book writers I am familiar with cannot comply with the SSSCA's terms. It was proven that it is cryptologically impossible to create a non-breakable copyright protection scheme[2]. Trying to mess their code with an ad-hoc heuristic imposed by the government is not their idea of being productive.

  9. The result: a massive brain drain of engineers from the U.S. If you think that because of the recession there is a surplus of programmers, think again. There is still a genuine lack of _good_ and qualified ones.[3] And those are the exact ones which would prefer to abandon the U.S. in favour of a country which gives them more freedom to program.[4]

Do you think that a different outcome can happen? It is possible that the SSSCA will exist on paper but won't be enforced until someone is reported to commit a crime against it. But obviously the Free Software Foundations can sue Microsoft for manufacturing an operating system that violates its intellectual property. After all, I can use Notepad to remove the copyright notice off one of gcc's files. Which is a clear violation even of existing copyright law.

When the SSSCA was first heard of (in its previous incarnation) some people thought that Microsoft would be happy to see it because it will render most existing free software illegal. But even Microsoft cannot to put up with the terms of the SSSCA. Microsoft would rather be a company whose products are possibly threatened by Linux, than a monopoly which will manufacture a practically useless operating system that could only exist in Sen. Ernest Hollings' imagination.

Obviously #7 will probably happen a long time before the law takes into effect. And I think it is a good thing, because then:

  1. Everybody will take about intellectual property laws and their implication on computers.

  2. Hackers who strive for political freedom will become media icons. Remember when Linus Torvalds appeared on the cover of Forbes? Now think of Richard M. Stallman on the cover of Time magazine.[5]

  3. People will become interested in other IP laws that violate their individual rights. Acts such as the DMCA, or the UCITA, or the restrictions on encryption or previous copyright legislation that is bluntly illegal (objectively speaking) may actually become headline news.

Which means: more publicity for us! And a greater chance of getting something to move there.

Don't get me wrong, I don't encourage the U.S. legislation to make the SSSCA into law. But I think it may actually serve as a turning point for those who strive for digital freedom of expression. We should criticize it rationally as much and as hardly as we can, but even if it passes it won't be the end of the world, but rather the beginning of a wonderful era.

The other possibility would be that Sen. Hollings et. al will decide to pass the SSSCA incrementally by one irrational provision at a time. But I believe this will only make the process slower, but the final outcome inevitable as it is. Many people who download mp3s illegally would agree that it is the right thing not to do it. But they would much more think that they should be given a choice whether to do it or not.

I have one piece of advice to Sen. Hollings, Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner and all the other people who have expressed support of the SSSCA. Learn how to program. This is not only enlightening and mind-exercising, but also a very practical skill. After you have learned how to program, I want you to make your code or commonly used code SSSCA-friendly.

I'd like you to take the Meta-Circular Evaluator of the classic text "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs" and make sure it does not execute copyrighted code. I'd like you to take GNU echo and make sure it does not prints copyrighted expressions to the screen. (you may actually find it useful to start from agrep). I want you to take gcc and make sure it does not compile code that one does not own the copyright to. And I want you to make sure your own pet programs and script follow suit.

Then I want you to let me know how you felt doing that. I know I would feel that it would be a complete waste of time if my own Freecell Solver had to make sure it respects the copyrights of layouts it receives as input. Worse yet, I may have to make sure it does not inspect such boards at mid-run. FYI, Freecell Solver can scale to millions of boards (which are all valid Freecell states) during a mundane run, and I have to make sure I check each one.

If I had to comply with the SSSCA, I would rather be jailed before I implement such a disaster in it. (seriously) If the U.S. Government would sacrifice the well-being of thousands of engineers and millions of users just so Walt Disney Corp. would be happy, then I'd rather get rid of the U.S. Government, (Disney is actually a relatively benevolent and productive corporation as far as I can tell), than the American or world-wide public.

So, fire away I say to Sen. Hollings. Unless, of course, he actually want to remain in one piece afterwards.

Seriously now, I'd rather see the public start opposing the SSSCA before it is enacted as law. How do we do it? By lobbying. Is there anything wrong with lobbying? Not unless there's anything wrong with talking. Here's a related example: suppose you wrote a good screenplay and wish it to be materialized as a movie. You can either send it to the Disney/WB/Paramount/etc. box and wait for a reply, which you probably won't get.

Or: you can travel to Hollywood, try to talk with other people who hold some power in the studios, tell them about your story; ask them to read it or your favourite parts; improve what they don't like and gradually think of ways to improve it; gradually have more people know about the story and eventually have the higher people notice you. This way will probably work better than just sending it by mail or E-mail and hoping for the best. Likewise for politics.

We should get as many people as possible that can be concerned by the SSSCA to know about it, and criticize it at public. Furthermore, those people should propagate it further up the line. I.e: we should let Military engineers be aware of it, and let them tell their commander about it. If a commander hears about the SSSCA from 3 different engineers, he will become suspicious of it himself. If you actually know a general or an ex-general (or admiral, yeah yeah) tell him about it, and see what he makes from it. Now, substitute this paragraph with the Tech Firms (not necessarily info tech), or Police, or Local Municipalities or generally equivalent.

Like it or not, we have become dependent on computers. And like it or not, the SSSCA will make using and developing them impossible. So, let the people know, so legislators will notice[6] and we can get rid of this crap.

And like I said earlier, it will give us a higher ground to further elevate our fight for individual rights. I cannot force you to contribute to its success ("Defame the SSSCA today!" and all this crap) but it does sound realistic to me. Still, don't rely on others to do the job for you. Remember: we are not centralized but distributed. Every node is important. You can start by writing an article about it while expressing your opinion rationally and benevolently. Then, publish it somewhere appropriate.

Life awaits you!


[1] - I'm not calling the SSSCA, in its new name, because it has a very horrid acronym. And it is basically the same law.

[2] - If you think about it, you can quickly realize that it also "makes sense". Naturally, it is not a proof, but should be convincing enough.

[3] - I used to worry about not getting a job after I finish the Technion, too. However, I was told that experienced Linux developers (which is the case for me) are actually very hard to find in Israel. In fact, many qualified Windows programmers are hired only to force Linux down their throats.

[4] - The U.S. may pride itself on being a free country. But becoming liberal and maintaining liberalism is a process, not a declaration. While no country in the world today is perfect constitutionally, I believe there are many countries in which a person can lead a free-er life than the U.S.

[5] - I'm not very fond of the latter. But he is one of the most influential and opinionated people in the free software/open-source world, so I chose to give him as an example.

[6] - Sending mail to your representative does not work as expected because of the following reasons:

1. Representatives receive a lot of mail and E-mail containing many things starting from conspiracy theories to personal complaints (which may be legitimate). It is probably that they will not notice the SSSCA.\

2. It is possible that they have bad intentions and wish to pass the SSSCA. Evil people exist, and I believe most representatives fall into that category.

3. A representative is likely to be more influenced by people he knows personally than from some random L. Torvalds hacker. We are dealing with people here, not with Turing machines.

Wow!, posted 12 Apr 2002 at 01:08 UTC by badvogato » (Master)

Wow! you really feel strong about this. But i have only one minute to spend at this second. Had raph charge fees for posting, it might force you to finish your argument within 3 minutes which may not be just for you but it works better for a diverse audience each tending their own interest first. Law is to defend an order and so are economic measures. To change a rule of law, you have to ask yourself, is everyone ready for it or why the law was there in the first place?

I must say i haven't had time to read any of your argument.

I don't get it, posted 12 Apr 2002 at 02:44 UTC by timcw » (Apprentice)

Hysteria or... ?


(1) LIMITATION ON THE EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS. -- In achieving the goal of promoting as many lawful uses of copyrighted works as possible, while preventing as much infringement as possible, the encoding rules shall take into account the limitations on the exclusive

rights of copyright owners, including the fair use doctrine.

(2) PERSONAL USE COPIES. -- No person may apply a security measure that uses a standard security technology to prevent a lawful recipient from making a personal copy for lawful use in the home of programming at the time it is lawfully performed, on an over-the-air broadcast, premium or non-premium cable channel, or premium or non-premium satellite channel, by a television broadcast station (as defined in section 122 (j)(5)(A) of title 17, United States Code), a cables system (as defined in section 111(f) of such title), or a satellite carrier (as defined in section 119(d)(6) of such title).

From the bill.

Is the fuss about anything more than paranoid pirates who might not be able to get their daily dose of mp3s? Isn't this just an extension of whatever law makes blackboxes for TV illegal? I don't believe you are allowed to modify copyright analog content, so why the fuss about digital? Not that this will be successful in any way, of course. Anti-piracy measures have been broken ever since they were in use. Same with encoded TV signals via blackboxes. Everything illegal will continue to remain illegal, just slightly harder to obtain/modify/etc. Everything legal will continue to remain legal. Or am I missing something...?

Hard to predict the outcome, posted 12 Apr 2002 at 13:21 UTC by tjansen » (Journeyer)

While I agree with you that the SSSCA has the potential to rough up the whole hardware and software industry, I would hesitate to say that this will benefit free software. There will be a two-year period when all existing software and hardware has to be re-designed. Some vendors will do a better job and gain market share. Some will have trouble and disappear. Part of the problem is that products sold before the SSSCA will be cheaper and have more capabilities. So people will buy A LOT of new hardware in the months before, and then won't buy anything for a long time. This could be very bad for many hardware vendors....

Similar things will happen to free software, especially if the standard requires many modifications of existing software and not only new drivers for DRM-capable hardware. The first hurdle is that the standard may have obstacles like patents, or maybe it requires a non-free codebase. You would have to release new revisions of licenses like the GPL in order to use the SSSCA-mandated standard and keep the use of free software legal in the US. And even then every user may have to pay for the use of the SSSCA standard under RAND terms. If people refuse to re-license their code to include non-free DRM code you won't be able to use it. Another problem is that people outside of the US may not be willing to help rewriting their code to include DRM, or, if they maintain it, they could refuse to include it in their codebase. Many forks could be the result.

One effect of the SSSCA that I am convinced of is that people will learn to appreciate free media alternatives. As an example, a teacher who wants to print/copy a newspaper article for his pupils can easily do this at the moment. But if the article is DRM-protected he won't be able to do this anymore, at least not without paying additional money. Experiences like this should increase the number of people who use and maybe contribute to things like Nupedia.

A button for "no copyrighted content", posted 12 Apr 2002 at 20:11 UTC by lilo » (Master)

If the SSSCA contained a provision which required all modified hardware to allow the user to select only Internet content which was in the public domain, it might actually have an interesting effect on content. It'd be refreshing to see people depend on courtesy and technology to determine usage rather than government enforcement. The big problem with using copyrights to enforce software licenses is that the third party in the transaction, a government, is usually subornable.

Clearly, though, it'd be better for all of us at this point, inside and outside of the US, if the act simply never passes.

A couple of points of clarification, posted 16 Apr 2002 at 02:43 UTC by Krelin » (Journeyer)

This seemed worthy of a quick reply; mostly a note regarding the US political system. The original poster said:

"This someone is the U.S. Government. It is one of the foundation of the democratic process that the government must finance the actions that needed to be taken to implement a given act. Software vendors cannot implement the SSSCA's provisions for free, so they will demand the U.S. government finances them."

Two things: The Federal Government of the United States is not a democracy. It is a republic. The difference is significant, and as you say, explained more effectively elsewhere. The different is germaine to your remark so it's worth mentioning. Also, it is not one of the foundations of our process "that the government must finance the actions taken to implement a given act." Our government frequently passes laws for which it provides no supporting funding; it is one of my favorite checks and balances. The senate does not allocate funds and so does not have unilateral power to pass and fund laws; the house must provide funding.

Thanks for your time and the worthy rant, your main point is still of interest. There may well be some cost involved for the software industry in realizing the goals of this bill. I suspect it will reveal itself most aggressively in the form of vague and nagging lawsuits directed by content-makers (Hollywood, RIAA, etc.) at software developers. Alas.

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