Since 1996

September 11, 2001

Intellectual property, again

Last January, I mentioned an industry proposal to build copyright protection into hard drives, and the generally negative feelings I and others had towards this idea. Apparently, the US Congress is considering a bill that would require computers to have this protection, making it a civil offense to create or sell one that does not. (via Hack the Planet, which also has a discussion about the issue)

Should the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act become law— and there is the slim chance that sanity will reassert itself at some point and prevent it—some pretty scary speculation about where it might lead becomes plausible: computers that will only load operating systems that “protect” copyrights, the effective banning of Linux and BSD, and the end of fair use as we know it. Remember: Copyright protection is important, but the law was originally written to protect the public interest. Copyrights are designed to expire and release their protected works to the public domain, and before that happens the public is still allowed to make “fair use” of the copyrighted work for academic and other purposes. The software enforcing the copyright, however, might disallow these legal uses of a work. (via HTP again)

This scares me, not the least because of the damage the DMCA is already doing. It’s possible to shut down a web site for a minimum of 10 days just by falsely accusing someone of piracy, because ISPs can be sued if they don’t remove copyright violations from their servers when notified of the alleged problem. Sure, if there’s no actual violation, the court would vindicate them, but the legal expenses have already been paid. You, the purchaser of the hosting service, are guilty until proven innocent.

Equally alarming is the global reach of these laws. If you do something outside the US that violates the DMCA, you’re probably better off staying outside the country. Or, in the case of research, not publishing at all. (via Doc Searls)

Sadly, the US Copyright Office, in its review of the DMCA, has found nothing problematic in the law, despite the serious misgivings of researchers and libraries, both of whom depend on fair use.

(The entertainment industry, of course, would be thrilled if public libraries were legislated out of existence. The idea that people can borrow books and videos from a public repository—for free!—must absolutely gall them. Not that they’d admit it publicly.)

It’s tempting to think that the Net will make these efforts at control futile, but this is not the case. Companies have been sued for allowing access to material on-line in countries where that material is forbidden, even if the company is not located in that country, and new treaties may make that the norm. The obvious workaround here is to serve the forbidden stuff from countries that haven’t signed the treaties, but that will be ultimately self-defeating. The Net was built around free exchange of information, but those freedoms can be eliminated. The proper response here is to try and influence those making the laws; simply pretending that the freedom of the Internet is invincible will only lead to defeat. (via Zeldman and HTP) #


Of course, it doesn’t take something long and abstract like copyright and international law to wreck the Internet. Consider the recent spate of worms, brought to us courtesy of Microsoft’s poor security practices. Consider how much damage was done even by these fairly benign, not-particularly sophisticated specimen. Consider how much worse things could be if someone made a really virulent worm. Find a wide-spread enough bug in Windows, and you can probably take out most of the Internet’s users in half an hour. (via HTP)

On the other hand, the results have come back for the ICFP programming contest, and the best two entries were written in Haskell and Dylan, respectively. Coincidentally, these also have the top two spots in my Cool Programming Languages I’d Like to Use Someday list. Good to see things going well for them. #