Magazine article American Libraries

Raspberries, Crippled PCs, and Libraries. (the Crawford Files)

Magazine article American Libraries

Raspberries, Crippled PCs, and Libraries. (the Crawford Files)

Article excerpt

Copyright can drive you crazy, which may explain this month's title. Raspberries? That's what I hear when I turn "CBDTPA"--the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act--into an acronym. (I would say "Bronx cheer" but that may not be the other kind of PC.) Crippled PCs? That's the only plausible implementation of what CBDTPA would yield. And libraries? They are careful respecters of copyright that rely on fair use and first-sale rights to operate; but they are threatened by legal raspberries and perhaps not fully aware of it.

Seasoned observers may stop here, saying, "Crawford's ranting about a bill that's never going to pass." That's the good news: CBDTPA, Sen. Fritz Hollings's (D-S.C.) new name for what he formerly called the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act, seems unlikely to become law, according to government observers. Maybe that's why some legislators have suggested that the FCC issue fiats to do the dirty work.

This gets technical, but let me offer a quick summary and why I find it so threatening for honest users and all libraries.

CBDTPA would require that all digital devices able to reproduce, display, retrieve, or access anything that's copyrightable include undefeatable copy-protection circuitry defined or approved by the government. That proposal may not go anywhere, but less-extreme proposals are likely to be adopted.

Why this is a Big Deal

Here's the scenario as I see it. You may need to read the bullets twice.

* If copy protection means outlawing all copying, that overturns fair use and would not survive judicial review. The Motion Picture Association of America, Recording Industry Association of America, Association of American Publishers, and others ("Big Media") disclaim any such intention--although the track records of the MPAA's Jack Valenti for movies and the RIAA for recordings lead me to doubt their sincerity. In any case, all current proposals assume some legal copying--but publishers would have full, undefeatable, control over all copying.

* Copy control for digital resources really requires digital watermarks: Additions to copyrighted materials that spell out attached rights but (supposedly) don't interfere with the music, video, picture, or text itself.

* Any digital watermark that can be detected can be defeated or removed digitally by true (commercial) pirates--and a digital watermark that isn't detectable won't work. …

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