Copy Controls Legislation Enters Fray
WASHINGTON--Legislation introduced this week in Congress to mandate a technical standard for protecting copyrighted content has set off a firestorm of controversy over its potential impact on the PC and other technologies.
The bill, introduced late Thursday by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-South Carolina), brings to a head a battle between content providers and the high-tech industry over responsibility for protecting copyrighted content. It would ensure copyright protection for material such as music and movies by requiring hardware and software makers to build copyright protection into their products. How this would work is far from resolved.
The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Act, as the bill is
called, would give the high-tech industry one year to agree on a technology
standard for such copyright protection. If this standard isn't set one year
after this bill becomes law, it would empower the Federal Communications
Commission to develop the standard. Hollings
"I think it's a very, very badly conceived idea," said David J. Farber, a professor of telecommunication systems at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and a former chief technologist at the FCC. "The result of it would be to essentially emasculate the PC as a useful device."
Without knowing the technical standard, it's difficult for experts to predict how this legislation would affect PC performance, particularly in the workplace, where many applications might interact with digital rights management technology.
But the legislation could have a devastating impact on PC sales in the consumer market, said Rob Enderle, senior analyst with Giga Information Group.
"It would probably crash the [PC] consumer market, given that being able to rip [copy] songs is one of the reasons that people are buying new machines," said Enderle. "It would just cripple consumer sales."
Roger Kay, an analyst at IDC, agreed. "It would certainly dampen consumers' enthusiasm for buying high-end machines, given what they do with high-end machines these days," he said.
In a new world where PCs would be loaded with anti-copying technology, older PCs would become more valuable then newer machines, the analysts said.
A group of venture capitalists have formed DigitalConsumer.org, intended
Mandating standards affecting consumer products isn't a new area for Congress. Federal legislation in 1993 banned radio frequency scanners capable of receiving cellular transmissions. Scanners that can receive these signals, however, are available in Canada and in many overseas markets, although it's illegal to import unblocked scanners into the U.S.
Hilary Rosen, president and chief executive officer of the Recording
Industry Association of America, told the Senate Judiciary Committee at
The solution lies in common standards to prevent piracy, she said. But there's no marketplace incentive for the makers of this equipment to develop those standards.
The legislation, as now written, would require a technical standard that would be incorporated as an embedded system in hardware and software. As an example of the problems facing such a standard, one industry source wondered how, if digital rights management is to be required by law in multimedia software or operating systems, would that be accomplished for open-source systems, such as Linux, that can be downloaded from servers in countries without those restrictions?
Digital rights management products are already on the market, and some