[ANSOL-geral]Gadgets outpace laws in digital age

Rui Miguel Seabra rms arroba 1407.org
Fri Jan 17 14:37:01 2003

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                                                        January 16, 2003

Gadgets outpace laws in digital age
By Fred Reed

     As technologies improve, laws have to change as governments try to
control their effects. This is necessary and mostly isn't nefarious. Do
we want human cloning or don't we? How, when and where? If the
technology exists, people have to decide what to do with it. This is
probably reasonable and certainly unavoidable.=20
     Some of the electronic technologies are a bit different. At the
moment, huge financial interests are trying to have the public regulated
in ways arguably not desirable, and they are doing it pretty much in the
journalistic shadows.
     For example, the firm SONICblue Inc. makes a gadget called
ReplayTV, which amounts to a sophisticated digital VCR. It allows people
easily to record television shows for later viewing, to e-mail them and,
horror of horrors, to skip commercials. The entertainment industry is
demanding that sales of ReplayTV be prohibited because people won't
watch commercials if they can avoid it.
     Whether the TV industry can force you to suffer through commercials
is being decided in a lawsuit.=20
     Another interesting case involves copyright protection on DVD
movies. As most people know, you can buy movies on DVD discs and, for
example, watch them on a laptop computer while flying. To protect the
contents, the movie people invented a content-scrambling system, which
encrypts the movie so that only people who paid for it can watch it.
     Sounds reasonable. If Hollywood makes a movie, it ought to be able
to prevent illegal reproduction. Except=20
     Two problems arose with CSS, both born of the very nature of
digital technology. First, if your computer ran Linux, an operating
system increasingly popular among the computer literate, you couldn't
watch the movie you had just bought. This struck many as outrageous: If
you shelled out for a DVD of "L.A. Confidential," you ought to be able
to watch your movie on any machine you chose.
     So in October 1999, a 15-year-old kid in Norway, Jon Johansen,
posted on the Internet a program called DeCSS, which unscrambled movies.
Oops. Now anyone could watch it without paying for it. The movie folk,
somewhat understandably, went crazy and filed suits to prevent
publication of the DeCSS code on the Internet. It became illegal even to
link to sites containing DeCSS.
     The effect was to criminalize the provision of information. If I
tell you that there is a drug market at 14th and Z streets, I am not a
criminal for so doing. If I tell you that DeCSS is available at
www.wherever.com, I am.
     Second, there was, and is, the question of enforceability. Granting
that MGM ought to be able to protect its copyright, is it possible in a
digital age? DeCSS is a small file. It is easy to download. Search on
"DeCSS download" and you find pages and pages of links. Even if all
these sites could be shut down, the code could easily be e-mailed from
one kid to another.
     Here we come to the crucial point: The easier it is to distribute
forbidden information, the more draconian must be the means of stopping
the distribution. Distribution on the Internet is incredibly easy, so
laws policing it would have to be incredibly intrusive.
     To prevent your teenager from passing around DeCSS (or music) by
e-mail or otherwise on the Internet, the federal government would have
to inspect all e-mail. If young Bobby then chose to encrypt the file,
the government would then have to either prohibit encryption or try to
decrypt all encrypted traffic. If downloading music is a criminal
offense, then most of our adolescent children are criminals, and
     These court cases, most of them little known, are determining major
questions regarding usage of the Internet and the amount of governmental
surveillance we want to tolerate for the benefit of a particular

+ No matter how much you do, you never do enough -- unknown
+ Whatever you do will be insignificant,
| but it is very important that you do it -- Gandhi
+ So let's do it...?

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