Help Stop the CBDTPA


In 2001, Senator Hollings introduced a draft bill called the “Security Systems Standards and Certification Act” (SSSCA). Many people thought that the bill was so biased towards the media companies that it would never pass the draft stage. But on March 21st, the SSSCA became an official bill under the new name of the “Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act” (CBDTPA). This is bad news because it means that there’s a real chance that this bill could become a law. (Full text of the CBDTPA.)

We need to act now to prevent the passage of the CBDTPA. Let us fax your letter to the Congress members who can make a difference.

Why the CBDTPA is bad for us.

Historically, our country has enjoyed a balance between the rights of copyright holders and the rights of citizens who legally acquire copyrighted works. Recent copyright legislation has eroded that balance to the detriment of consumers. The CBDTPA promises to shift the balance even further by placing more power in the hands of a small number of media companies. We see four major problems with the CBDTPA.

The CBDTPA does not protect fair use.

The CBDTPA will do almost nothing to safeguard consumers. Although section 3(e)(2) discusses personal use copies, it narrowly defines personal use as just one copy “at the time [the program] is lawfully performed”. This exemption for personal use is substantially more narrow than the legal rights that consumers have had in the past.

Previous laws such as the DMCA also contained very narrow exemptions for personal use, and the consequence has been that media companies have defined personal use as exactly those exemptions and no more. Without a clear, positive assertion of personal use through the Consumer Technology Bill of Rights, consumers are left to the whims of media company lawyers when questions arise. Using history as a guide, this is a losing proposition for citizens and their ability to use legally acquired media in legitimate and expected noncommercial ways.

Before even more power is given to media companies, consumers need their rights defined and safeguarded.

Plain and simple, it just won’t work.

“A standard for copy protection is as premature as a standard for teleportation.”

(Noted computer security expert and Princeton University Professor Edward Felten.)

The solutions that the content industry has advanced to date have been more effective at preventing consumers from copying their legally bought music to their MP3 players than at diminishing major commercial piracy operations. As we all know, copy protection isn’t breakable by the average citizen, but it is very breakable by software experts.

A government mandated technology standard will not be any more effective at preventing piracy. Instead, the consumer will lose as another technology that deprives them of control and flexibility is forced upon them.

The most respected computer security experts agree that this approach to preventing piracy won’t work. Edward Felten has observed that “every copy protection scheme for general purpose computers that has undergone serious public scrutiny has been found to be ineffective. Consider what will happen if a government mandated protection measure turns out not to work. Such a measure would do many things: it would inconvenience honest consumers; it would raise the price of media players; it would lengthen product development cycles; it would impede the development of new and better standards. Everyone would suffer, except the pirates. The industry that devised the measure would look technically inept, and the government that mandated its use would look worse.”

We’ve seen this movie before and the ending isn’t good for consumers.

In 1998 Hollywood went to Congress with a proposition: give them greater copyright protection and they would unleash a tidal wave of legal, downloadable digital movies and music for consumers to enjoy. As a result, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Congress lived up to its end of the bargain. Hollywood did not. Four years after the passage of the DMCA, the only outcome has been media company lawsuits against innovative companies and threats against consumers.

Now, Hollywood is back with the CBDTPA making the same claims they made in 1998: “Give us more protection and great things will happen.” We have no reason to believe that the CBDTPA will be any different than the DMCA.

The CBDTPA undermines innovation.

The CBDTPA will inevitably prevent innovation because it is the most sweeping regulation of the information technology sector in history. The CBDTPA gives content companies the ability to veto devices like the VCR and the digital Walkman.

The CBDTPA requires that any “digital media device” incorporate government mandated copy-protection technology. To work, this copy-protection technology has to “know” the legal and illegal uses of a consumer’s media. Then it needs to allow the legal uses and prevent the illegal ones. That requires content companies to anticipate ahead of time all possible legitimate uses. It also gives them effective veto control over all unanticipated uses.

Innovation is defined as discovering and imagining unanticipated uses of technology. This conflicts directly with the approach of the CBDTPA. Imagine if the CBDTPA had been in place soon after the invention of television. The creators of television never imagined the VCR. Any definition of ‘legal use’ would not have included the ability to record a program and watch it later. Therefore, that use would have been illegal. Any attempt to invent a VCR would have been forbidden because the creators of the law would not have anticipated it.

No one can predict the future of technology. Implementing a law that tries to make such predictions is dangerous.