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CBDTPA bans everything from two-line BASIC programs to PCs



Just in case folks haven't figured out how sweeping the Hollings-Feinstein 
bill, aka CBDTPA is, well, keep reading.

The CBDTPA says that if I were to write and sell this BASIC program...

10 INPUT A$
20 PRINT A$

...after the regulations take effect, I would be guilty of a federal 
felony. That's up to five years in prison and up to a $500,000 fine. 
Distributing my two-line application without charging for it, either via 
handing out floppies or by posting it on a website would be at least a 
civil offense and, depending on the circumstances, a crime as well.

It's no joke. CBDTPA regulates "any hardware or software that reproduces 
copyrighted works in digital form." My program above does that, especially 
if my BASIC interpreter permits arbitrarily long strings.

The business end of the CBDTPA says that "a manufacturer, importer, or 
seller" of such software cannot "sell, or offer for sale, in interstate 
commerce, or cause to be transported in, or in a manner affecting, 
interstate commerce" their code unless it "includes and utilizes standard 
security technologies that adhere to the security system standards adopted 
under section 3."

The FCC gets to invent those. But I can't see how my two-line program is 
going to incorporate such standards. If I'm using C, must I "#include 
<sys/copycheck.h>?" In Perl, will I "use Parse::DRMVerify?" If so, who at 
the FCC will ensure that these modules are available for the languages I'm 
using? (It is true that folks at the FCC are smarter than the folks in 
Congress, though that is not saying much. FCC staff will try to make the 
standards workable. But the CBDTPA gives them -- and the public -- precious 
little wiggle room.)

By design, programming languages are terribly flexible. The only way to 
prevent software from removing do-not-copy bits from digital content would 
be for Congress to ban the programmable PC. And replace it, perhaps, with 
WebTV television-top boxes.

In case you're curious, the felony penalties kick in when you try to sell 
your post-ban BASIC program -- not to mention any commercial software -- 
and perhaps even if you're a free software developer hoping to gain 
reputation capital from your code.

They say that violators "shall be fined not more than $500,000 or 
imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, for the first offense; and 
shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned for not more than 10 
years, or both, for any subsequent offense." 
(http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/1204.html)

Yes, this is silly. No, it is probably (I hope) not what senators Hollings 
and Feinstein and their colleagues intended. Yet it is what the text of the 
bill says. And this is after the good senators had seven months of 
correspodnence from computer scientists and industry representatives 
worried about the scope of the legislation after it was widely circulated 
in August 2001.

Don't believe me? Read it for yourself:

Text of CBDTPA:
http://www.politechbot.com/docs/cbdtpa/

Politech archive on the CBDTPA:
http://www.politechbot.com/cgi-bin/politech.cgi?name=cbdtpa

-Declan




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