Plenty of current press reports indicate that the SSSCA/CBDTPA won't
pass the U.S. Congress this year. (I don't mean to discourage you from
writing to Congress about that legislation; it's just that political
support for the bill as it stands is relatively weak.) Jack Valenti
of the MPAA recently said that movie studios "we want to narrow the
focus of the bill as the legislative process moves forward. What needs
to happen is we all sit down together in good-faith negotiations and come
to some conclusions on how we can construct a broadcast flag (for keeping
digital TV content off the Internet), on how we plug the analog hole (allowing
people to record digital content off older televisions and other devices),
and how we deal with the persistent and devilish problem of peer-to-peer."
It looks like Valenti will get his first wish, at least.
The future of the SSSCA isn't a broad government mandate regulating
every possible device. It's a series of mini-SSSCAs imposing rules on
particular technologies. Each minor SSSCA will be poorly publicized,
"narrow", and "negotiated". They'll be written as compromises, but not
compromises protecting your interests.
Almost all major consumer electronics manufacturers and several major
computer vendors have been meeting with the studios since November to
talk about the implementation of the "broadcast flag" idea. Basically,
they're writing legislation (although not all of them are comfortable
calling it that).
This isn't as exciting as the SSSCA, but it has a great deal more
political support. It's seen as "moderate" and viewed as "industry
consensus", and it's backed by major electronics companies, not
just Hollywood. What legislator would oppose that?
It's increasingly appearing that the SSSCA mandate is a smokescreen, or,
if you prefer, a deliberately alarming and extreme proposal introduced
to make other government mandate schemes appear moderate and reasonable
by contrast. (Frequently, advocates of some legislation will start
out by asking for much more than they really expect to get; then they
can "make concessions" and "compromise" and end up with a "middle ground"
which includes most of what they really wanted.)
Furthermore, the SSSCA has clearly frightened electronics companies. In
their testimony and public statements, they've been eager to emphasize
that they want to work with Hollywood and have been working
with Hollywood and are trying hard to accomodate what Hollywood
wants. When Leslie Vadasz of Intel suggested in one hearing that
Intel would merely attempt to compromise with Hollywood instead
of surrendering in advance, pro-copyright Senators were outraged. The
idea that Hollywood's demands were unreasonable and should be rejected
never even entered the picture.
So everyone's talking about "negotiation" and "consensus" these days.
Some industry insiders have a pragmatic view: we don't have the political
power to fight Hollywood directly, they say. If we get stuck in front of
Congress, we lose. So our task is to keep this battle from ever ending up
on Capitol Hill.
The compromises thus reached -- like the "broadcast flag" compromise --
are better than the SSSCA because they are milder than it. They are less
intrusive and less disruptive and less extreme; they apply to specific
technologies instead of every single digital device.
They're still harmful to free software. The particular negotiation I've
been discussing, a series of meetings in Los Angeles under the banner of
the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (BPDG), is writing legislation
which would mandate DRM for digital outputs on digital TV receivers.
The inside of any digital TV receiver (including a tuner card for a PC,
and including software used in connection with such a card) would have
to be "robust" and "tamper-resistant". A "non-compliant" device would
To retain backwards compatibility with existing digital TV equipment,
there would be no encryption involved, just a single "redistribution
control" bit. New equipment would be mandated by law to respect the
bit and to be designed to frustrate end users' attempts to remove
these controls. Among other things, that means no free software for
playing or recording digital TV broadcasts, and a ban on existing tuner
cards which allow free software to do these things.
The requirements for digital TV receivers are being written by many of
the same folks who wrote the licensing rules for CSS, the encryption
scheme used by DVD Video. (Here, there is no pretense of technical
security; the security is provided by a legal mandate, through and
through, and enforced in court.) To a first approximation, the goal
is to impose requirements on anything which receives over-the-air
digital TV broadcasts akin to the requirements the studios imposed on
DVD players. That includes a prohibition on free software
implementations, because, even if they complied with all the other
restrictions, they aren't "tamper-resistant".
Since these rules are so arcane and digital TV is still not particularly
mainstream, it's difficult to get people to pay attention to this, or to
recognize the harm it could do them in the long term. The EFF has
started a weblog, Consensus At
Lawyerpoint, with news about the proposal; we would welcome your
attention and suggestions.