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House Copies the Senate

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 4/5/02 issue of R&R There's a wave of legislation sweeping through our bicameral system designed to make sure that no piece of hardware or software that you come in contact with can be used to illegally copy digital entertainment files. First, the Senate introduced the CBDTPA, the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act. That's hardly the most fun bill name to say: add "doo-dah, doo-dah" to "Tauzin Dingell Broadband Bill", and you'll have hours of jingle excitement.

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Back to the CBDTPA: the House now has its own version, introduced by California representative Andy Schiff (D-Burbank), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, the people you saw having fun toying with the Enron folks on C-SPAN last month. Having a bill running a similar track in both bodies means less time spent haggling a compromise if and when the bills both pass.

What will these new laws mean to you and me? It will affect everything from the new digital recording devices your reporters are using to grab audio and wirelessly send it back to your studios, all the way through the Tivos and Replays that have become the DJ's best friend, to the very PCs that sit on your desk and will add circuitry and software that will police your ability to copy digital entertainment files.

Can you say SDMI? Or SCMS? Both of these schemes were designed to do just that, and neither one was effective: SDMI is still waiting for an actual implementation, and SCMS basically killed the market for DAT in the home.

Mandatory copy protection simply is a non-sequitur. The moment a manufacturer spends months implementing a copy protection scheme, a hacker spends a few hours cracking it. I'm the first person to rail against piracy of content and software, but the last thing we need is an arms race between the sloth-like nature of a manufacturing schedule and the nimbleness of your average hacker dude or dudette.

This is more innovation-by-legislation that simply won't stand up to real world tests. And people are slowly coming to the conclusion that we have Napster to thank for giving the masses a taste of the fruit of the forbidden tree: free music for anyone who cared to download it. And with the recent Amsterdam Court of Justice rulings setting aside the intelligent lower court rulings against Kazaa, the legal jiu-jitsu over these piracy sites continues.

With every passing moment, the existence and persistence of these sites adds fuel to the flame that pushes the government to mandate technology that just won't fly. In a recent Salon article, the guys that run SomaFM, facing deletion due to the stunning CARP rulings, grudgingly admit that Napster ruined it for everyone and set these wheels in motion. Finally.



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