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Tuesday, 9 October, 2001, 14:10 GMT 15:10 UK
New legal assault on US CD copying
CD copying
Recently copying technology has leapt ahead of the law
By BBC News Online's Alex Webb

Many software programmers, music consumers and internet surfers in the US are growing concerned about a new bill which proposes a significant change in the legal climate around data copying.

The Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA) would make it a civil offence to create or sell any kind of computer equipment without government-certified copying protection devices.


A prohibition on copying is likely to have the same result as the prohibition on alcohol had

Julian Midgely, Campaign for Digital Rights
The bill is being introduced to Congress by Democratic senator Fritz Hollings, who is chairman of the Senate commerce committee.

The intention is to protect copyrighted material - such as films, music and software - by forcing manufacturers to include the necessary copyright protection hardware and software.

The bill would also create a range of new offences, punishable by up to five years in prison and fines of up to $500,000 (340,000).

Revenues

Anyone who distributed copyrighted material with its security measures disabled, or who had a network-attached computer that disabled copy protection, would be in danger of prosecution.

The new law is required, say many in the creative industries, because new copying technology threatens to erode revenues from music film, books and software.

Inserting a CD into a PC CD drive
The SSSCA is a measure of the fears over copying technology
Support for the legislation has come from Walt Disney, whose executive vice president Preston Padden called the bill "an exceedingly moderate and reasonable approach" to the problem.

In an interview with the Wired website, Mr Padden said: "If you're a computer company or if you make hubs and routers or if you're trying to build a broadband network, you want this bill.

"This bill is going to speed the entertainment content into the online broadband environment, create consumer demand and get broadband going."

The Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are also expected to line up behind the bill.

Opposition

But there is a coalition of interests who disagree with the proposed legislation.

Website and software developer Don Pavlish has created a website, Stoppoliceware.org, to mobilise opposition.

He is organising an internet petition to Congress opposing the bill, which he calls "a severe threat to the freedoms we enjoy as Americans."

The petition reads: "This proposed 'policeware' would restrict what we can and cannot do with our own personal computers in our own homes and businesses.

"The very idea of forcing government 'policeware' into our homes and businesses, and jailing those who tamper with or refuse to run this 'policeware' on their own private computers, is terribly wrong and completely contrary to both the letter and spirit of our Constitution and Bill of Rights."

The petition has so far attracted some 12,000 signatures in the US.

In the UK, the likely spread of CD-copying protection devices has also led to opposition from the Campaign for Digital Rights (CDR).

The CDR's Julian Midgely sees the SSCA as a threat to consumers and programmers in the UK, as well as in the US.

"The principal problem we have with the SSSCA is that by mandating copying protection for all content, using standards created in the US, it actually threatens a substantial proportion of the European software industry," he told BBC News Online.

"The fact is they're attempting a prohibition on copying, whether legitimate or illegitimate - and that is likely to have the same result as their prohibition on alcohol had."

See also:

09 Oct 01 | New Media
Pirate CD seizures double in US
05 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
CD protesters take to the streets
03 Oct 01 | New Media
'N Sync fight the CD pirates
05 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Computers burnt by CD software
01 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Music's digital future
02 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Q&A: Fighting online music piracy
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